Strong concern about the current volatility in recycling markets and possibility of material going to landfill was on clear display at the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) conference last week.
Environment minister Jane Kennedy told delegates: We need to work together to understand what is happening. This is a very big issue that we are monitoring closely.
She confirmed that a working group had been established, with objectives to maintain public confidence in recycling and ensure that high quality recyclate was being produced. There is work being done but it is not possible to say there is a magic bullet, she warned.
Making a plea to a predominantly local authority audience, LARAC chair Lee Marshall said: Public confidence is very fragile in the system we operate and implement. I urge anyone who is considering landfilling their material to do what you can - take the budgetary hit - because as soon as you do [landfill recyclables] public confidence will be shot.
He added that lack of payment for materials should not lead to a weaker audit trail: You still need to know where your material is going, even if you are not getting paid for it.
Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) head of market knowledge Liz Dixon Smith concurred that landfill is clearly not the panacea and warned that volatility and uncertainty will probably remain until New Year. Dixon Smith said it was helpful to distinguish between the short term and long term impacts of the current situation.
In the short term, the issues are around finding markets and avoiding damaging public confidence, she said. Taking action such as stockpiling material might offer breathing space.
In the long term Dixon Smith warned that if prices stay at the current level there are implications for local authorities. There could be a loss of recycling infrastructure. WRAP has an ongoing liaison with a number of policy makers, to see if we can help alleviate the situation without distorting the markets, she said.
WRAPs view is that the market will return to trend by 2010, with prices recovering but not to the peaks of earlier this year. Dixon Smith pointed out the organisation did not have all the answers but said there were lessons to learn from the current situation: the importance of robust contracts, diversified end markets, quality of material and good relationships.