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Recycling services are still causing a huge debate

Nicola Peake

Nicola Peake on the raging collection scheme debate

The Campaign for Real Recycling’s (CRR) call for a judicial review into the inclusion of commingled collections in the revised Waste Framework Directive (WFD) reveals the depth of feeling that recycling stirs within the industry, let alone on the streets.

Commingled and kerbside sort collection schemes can both play a valuable role in giving householders a convenient route through which to recycle refuse and cut their carbon footprints. For local authorities, increasing the volume of waste captured through recycling is vital. The Waste Strategy 2000 target for 67% of waste, by volume, to be recycled by 2015 is still a big step for many. More to the point, they need to achieve this in just over three years.

The CRR is concerned that the Government’s revised WFD opens the door for councils to use commingled collections which it believes run contrary to the “wording and spirit of the WFD”. My feeling is that the Government will have deliberately left the choice open to local authorities regarding how they capture more recyclable waste as this fits with the localism agenda.

“Councils need to consider what they want to achieve from their recycling scheme”

Assuming this is the case and that the CRR’s call for a judicial review does not achieve a clarification on the WFD that favours kerbside sort collections, then local authorities need to choose which method of recycling they adopt based on the quality of recycling that it provides, the value derived from the recovered materials and the cost of implementing the scheme.

I believe that kerbside sort collection is the most effective way forward from an environmental and financial viewpoint. May Gurney is a CRR member because it endorses this approach. The inherent ability of kerbside sort schemes to keep waste segregated and in good condition means that local authorities can get far more money for recyclable materials, which can significantly offset the cost of providing the service.

But kerbside sort collections are not just about increasing revenues. They can also help to reduce the carbon footprint of the recycling service.

Many authorities find they cannot send commingled recycling collections for reprocessing in the UK because the return from the material is not high enough to justify the reprocessing costs. As a result, many commingled collections get sent abroad for reprocessing. Segregated recycling from kerbside collections is more attractive to local reprocessors and will more frequently find a market within the UK.

While both collection methods offer improved recycling, in reality local authorities need to consider what they are seeking to achieve from recycling schemes.

If compliance with the Waste Strategy 2000 is the only objective, then selecting the lowest cost way of achieving this will arguably be the driver. Whether that is commingled or kerbside sort collection will depend on how the service is designed for the local area in which it will operate.

But I would argue that there is a greater rationale behind recycling: the ethical and low-carbon argument. And in this case, ensuring that the maximum amount of waste material collected for recycling is reprocessed to achieve the lowest carbon footprint has to be a major consideration. In my experience, kerbside sort collection is the best way to achieve this goal.

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