The operation of recycling could be adding to global warming rather than reducing it and an urgent review is needed of the benefits of recycling, according to Government recycling adviser Peter Jones.
Speaking on the BBC news (27 January), Jones, former director of waste firm Biffa, said: Weve got to urgently, I believe, start getting a grip on how this material is flowing through the system, whether we are actually adding to or reducing the overall impact in terms of global warming potential of this process.
Jones is now an adviser to the London Mayor Boris Johnson.
According to the Daily Telegraph (27 January) Jones said that the global warming impact of putting material through an incinerator five miles down the road is actually less than recycling it 3,000 miles away.
The BBC news report also showed that recycling was still big business but its a trade that depends on the global economy and right now prices are low.
Speaking about the low material prices, Shanks director Paul Dumpleton was also quoted on the report. He said: Yes, it is difficult at the moment and it has been for the last three or four months. Price is still an issue and will continue to be for some while but we are in this for the long term and not the short term.
The report questioned whether recycling made sense. The BBC reporter concluded: Financially it should because landfill is becoming more and more expensive and environmentally landfill is such a huge source of greenhouse gas.
But these are early days for this industry and how we best handle waste is still evolving.
In a statement issued after the BBC report, the Waste & Resources Action Programme said that material was still worth recycling even in the current economic climate.
It used the example of paper bearing the brunt of the economic downturn and said that even if paper is sold for recycling at £10 a tonne it is still preferable to paying the average of £45, including tax, to send it to landfill.
WRAP market director of development Marcus Gover said: The growth of recycling in the UK over the last decade is a terrific success story. With almost 10m tonnes of waste recycled in the UK every year storing 100,000 or even 200,000 tonnes amounts to a small percentage of that total.
Our market intelligence indicates that across different materials, prices are recovering just not to previous levels.
Mr Jones issued a comment on the Telegraph story to clarify his position. He said: At no stage did I ever suggest that recycling was a waste of time or that it could be adding to global warming, the opposite is in fact the case. At the moment I believe there are effective and successful policies in place for composting and recycling but that we need as full an understanding as possible of the carbon implications of all collection and treatment methods of our rubbish to demonstrate the substantial additional further savings that can be made.
I would also like to reiterate that I was speaking in a personal capacity as someone who has a real interest in waste issues and the future of the waste hierarchy.
Image: Government recycling adviser Peter Jones