These are the highlights of the first four months of the year 2014 from the news pages of MRW
The British Plastics Federation (BPF) started the year with a bang, claiming that the performance of the UK’s plastics recycling industry might have been understated.
It argued that this was due to an over-optimistic estimate by Defra of the amount of plastics packaging put on to the market every year. A similar claim the previous October, this time about glass, forced Defra to lower the glass packaging recycling target.
The department came in for criticism when it became clear that it was not planning to publish waste guidance for English councils looking to carry out commingled collections after the Waste Framework Directive comes into force in 2015.
The Environment Agency (EA) took on Ranbit Singh, director of a Midlands skip hire firm, and won. Singh was jailed for 18 months for illegal waste activities and disqualified from being a company director for seven years.
Despite pressure from inside and outside the industry, prison sentences for waste crime remain rare.
In overseas markets, the devaluation of African currencies against sterling was one of the reasons for a build-up of textile stock in the UK.
In Europe, nine major compliance schemes joined forces to more effectively deal with waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) across the EU.
Waste crime came under the spotlight when MRW reported that the industry was “at risk of becoming a cash cow” to fund organised crime.
This followed from The Mills Report, published few months earlier, which revealed that the waste sector in Northern Ireland was “vulnerable” to crime. But the author of the report claimed the whole of the UK was at risk.
Christopher Mills, former director of the Welsh Environment Agency, worked with the EA, Natural Resources Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to compile the report.
Later that same month, Mills urged that the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 should be used more effectively against criminals to act as a deterrent.
Law firm Burges Salmon warned that waste companies could face legal and commercial challenges as a result of TEEP regulations, which requires separate collections for recyclable materials from January 2015. A High Court judge backed Banbridge District Council’s decision in Northern Ireland to abandon sorted kerbside collections in favour of a largely commingled service.
It was unclear whether this judgement would set a precedent. Defra published draft TEEP guidance in May but this was met with disappointment and claims that it did nothing to clarify the situation.
Crime was still high on the agenda as new sentencing guidelines for environmental offences were introduced after concern that some operators found it cheaper to break the law than follow industry regulations.
A report followed, which found that waste crime could be costing the UK economy up to £800m. Tackling Britain’s Dirty Secret was carried out by the consultancy Eunomia and commissioned by the Environmental Services Association’s Education Trust.
Meanwhile, resource minister Dan Rogerson announced that he was considering a bond system for waste companies so that money was available for emergency clean-ups.
Eunomia’s Peter Jones took on the Daily Mail on behalf of the industry – and won. The paper was compelled to remove articles on waste and recycling issues from its website and publish corrections after a complaint to the press watchdog.
March was also the month that the industry said goodbye to the askjennie.com website, which closed due to a lack of funding. Established by Jennie Rogers, the website was an online resource for councils to share best practice.
Joint research between Rogers and MRW in 2012 undermined the claims of communities secretary Eric Pickles that his £250m Weekly Collection Support Scheme was persuading councils to abandon fortnightly (alternate weekly) collections.
Norfolk County Council announced its withdrawal from a contract with Cory Wheelabrator to build an energy-from-waste (EfW) facility near King’s Lynn. The council faced compensation costs of more than £30m. The Willows plant had the capacity to deal with 30,000 tonnes of residual waste and 5,000 tonnes of food waste a year.
The Green Investment Bank (GIB) had stepped in to back the scheme, committing £51m to the project. Later, Norfolk announced an independent report, but it had not been published at the time of going to press.
Environmental groups called for an overhaul of waste storage regulations after claiming that action taken by the EA and fire services to deal with a blaze at Lawrence Recycling in Kidderminster in June 2013 was inadequate. The fire took seven and a half weeks to extinguish.
International insurance company Catlin stopped quoting new business from the waste and recycling sector partly due to an “unprecedented” number of waste fires. This was despite a report in February that found the number of fires at waste sites monitored by the EA increased only slightly in 2013 but the total number of fires, including those at illegal and unregulated sites, had fallen.
Defra brought in changes to the Packaging Recovery Notes rules to create a “level playing field” between domestic reprocessing and exports.
See tomorrow - Review of the year: May - August 2014