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Waste directive ruling on definition of ‘separate collection’ reignites collection debate

Requirements to formally adopt a ‘separate’ waste collection system into UK law with forthcoming EU waste regulations have reignited the collection debate among the waste management industry.

The EU’s revised Waste Framework Directive calls for “separate collection of waste” for different material streams, including paper, glass, plastic and metals. However, a letter from the European Commission to the UK explained that this will not exclude commingled collections.

The letter said: “If commingled collection of paper, metal, plastics, glass and other recyclable materials followed by their subsequent separation assures that the above mentioned quality standards are met and that high quality recycling is being promoted, Member States would be allowed to continue such practice.”

Veolia Environmental Services (UK) deputy chief executive Paul Levett welcomed the support for commingled collections. He said: “Collection systems need to vary according to local demographics, housing stock, road networks and other factors. Commingled collection is extremely effective in areas where wheeled bins can be accommodated.

“This system is easier to use and hence more popular with residents, increases recycling yields and reduces safety risks for operatives. Modern material recycling facilities can produce the high quality outputs required by the discerning buyers of the materials.”

Despite the redefinition of ‘source separation’ to include both commingled and kerbside sorting methods, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs’ and Welsh Assembly Government (WAG)’s recent consultation document endorsed the kerbside sort collection method.

The report said: Defra/WAG support and endorse WRAP’s assessment that kerbside sort should be preferred where this is practicable; and where this is not two streams commingled collections are preferable over single stream collections.”

 Campaign for Real Recycling Chair Mal Williams welcomed the report’s endorsement. He said: “Well done to the (Defra) and the new coalition Government for recognising that kerbside sort is more effective than Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) sort for producing high quality recyclable resources.”

However, Viridor chief executive Colin Drummond criticised all ‘prescriptive’ approaches for the collection and sorting of recyclables.

Drummond said: “The priority should be on quality and cost-efficiency and it is clear that both commingled and kerbside sorting can produce high quality products if managed properly, despite the claims of those with vested interests.  Such matters should be decided by local circumstances, value for money and what is most effective and efficient in producing quality materials for demanding markets.”

The sentiment was echoed by Waste Watch, who told MRW: “We support the general thrust towards improving recyclate quality. Regardless of your stance on the source-separated/commingled debate, improving material quality must be an overall for goal for the sector as a whole.”

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