The Government’s policy of low cost, tonnage-based recycling targets could erode hard-won gains in the renewables sector.
This is the major finding of research carried out by Grant Thornton Project Finance in association with Oakdene Hollins who state that Westminster may change its recycling strategy in the near future.
With no distinction made between recycling processes that reduce CO2 emissions and those that increase them, the report suggests that a much higher reduction could be made.
It states that while the current 60% recycling target for glass is expected to save around 300,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by 2008, if policies were better directed, a further 100,000 tonnes of emissions could be saved at no additional financial cost.
Grant Thornton project finance team waste specialist Nigel Mattravers said: “The current focus on how many tonnes we recycle and the fixation with meeting weight-based targets rather than on energy efficient recycling methods is actually having an adverse effect on the environment.
“Energy intensive recycling methods such as glass grinding for use in the construction industry may be helping us to meet tonnage-based recycling targets. However, they are failing to reduce harmful CO2 emissions which would be lower if all the glass was sent directly to landfill sites.”
Although re-melting glass to form new products is said to be the most environmentally friendly method, the fact that most local authorities collect all colours together means that separating is both time consuming and expensive.
And while the report suggests countering the problem by bulk importing wine into the UK or increasing the international trade of glass cullet, Mattravers gives a stark warning.
“There is a real danger that unless the relative carbon effect of different recycling strategies is properly understood and acted on, the hard-won gains in the renewable sector may be eroded.
“We think the Government is starting to recognise the carbon effects of current recycling policies. However, this means that the waste management business needs to be cautious about adopting recycling technologies which are not working in partnership with the carbon agenda and be aware that the Government may change its recycling policies in the near future”, he said.