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Prepare for change

Steve Smith

Steve Smith considers what’s in store for the recycling and waste sector this year

Uncertainty, challenges and competition - three words we’re going to hear a lot of during the next year. Without wishing to appear too gloomy, we have yet to see the full impact of budgetary cuts, particularly across local authority areas, and how the economy will develop.

There has already been talk of slashing budgets that promote recycling schemes, so we will need more creativity to ensure the recycling messages continue to be effective and people act on what they see and hear.

The news at the end of the year wasn’t all bad, with materials prices increasing by a third or more during the 12 months, according to WRAP’s materials pricing report, compiled by MRW. Prices for all materials, apart from glass, showed an increase, demonstrating steady market recovery.

But it won’t all be down to economics. Changes in regulations and legislation are on the way. Regulations relating to the revised Waste Framework Directive should be laid before Parliament this month, having been delayed from the middle of December. Under this, waste management activities will need to adhere to the five-step waste hierarchy: prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery and disposal. Targets are for household waste recycling to reach 50% by 2020 and 70% for construction and demolition.

The Welsh Assembly passed statutory requirements last month for Welsh councils to achieve 52% recycling for municipal waste in 2012-13, rising to 70% in 2025. And the Scottish Government has launched a consultation proposing landfill bans and compulsory segregation of recyclables from the commercial sector.

The number of regulations shows that a ‘one size fits all’ solution does not apply at a national level, so it is hardly surprising that you cannot apply it to all collection methods.

“We will need more creativity to ensure recycling messages continue to be effective”

The one thing we need to be sure about is effective communication of the ins and outs of recycling schemes. Many people still do not understand why they cannot put out the same materials for recycling as their friends or family who live in different areas.

There was much focus in recent weeks about the localism bill, which will give councils more freedom to prioritise the way they spend their money. Under the current economic conditions, could this lead to more fortnightly collections or more sharing operational costs?

Clauses in the bill also give residents the opportunity to force a referendum if the council receives a petition with signatures from 5% of residents. Will this mean councils coming under pressure to justify their choice of kerbside collection scheme and require it to be changed if residents do not feel the recycling scheme provides value or serves their needs?

And the results of the waste review consultation are expected in May. Will there be a greater emphasis placed on using recyclable/recycled materials in manufacturing and construction, and what policies will ensure that landfill is only used for wastes for which there is no better use?

I’ve posed a lot of questions in this column and I’m planning to expand on some points in the next few months. It is always difficult to predict what the future holds, but the recycling industry will continue to rise to the challenges it faces.

Steve Smith is director of SCA Recycling and president of the CPI’s recovered paper sector

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