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What does the waste industry feel about the latest sorting row?

The UK interpretation of the European Legislation allowed for commingled collections to count as part of the definition of “separate collections” – which authorities must provide for different material streams.

According to the draft legislation: “This regulation makes provision for the collection of waste paper, metal, plastic and glass by way of separate collection (which includes commingled collection) in order to promote high quality recycling.”

By its nature the CRR will always oppose commingled collection schemes, but does this view reflect that of the wider waste industry, and the MRF operators who would be at risk from an enforcement of kerbside collection policy?

“Reject rates from commingled collections are consistently overstated whereas reject rates from source segregated collections are all too often ignored” - Biffa

As a member of the CRR, May Gurney environmental services managing director Nicola Peake believes not.

She says: “Many local authorities find that they cannot send commingled recycling collections for reprocessing in the UK, as the return from this type of material is not high enough to justify the reprocessing costs.”

“As a result many commingled recycling collections get sent abroad for reprocessing. In comparison segregated recycling from kerbside collections is far more attractive to local reprocessors and will more frequently find a market within the UK.

Peake adds: “While both commingled collection and kerbside sort collection offer improved recycling, in reality local authorities need to consider what they are seeking to achieve from recycling schemes.”

But Biffa has strongly supported the Defra decision to include commingled collections in the WFD.

A company statement said:  “What is clear and irrefutable is that the highest rates of recycling are consistently achieved by local authorities that use commingled collections.  In our view the primary reason for this is that the system is simple for householders to operate and hence participation rates are consistently higher. In our experience, reject rates from commingled collections are consistently overstated whereas reject rates from source segregated collections are all too often ignored.” 

However, kerbside collections are ideal for those local authorities which, as Peake says, are looking to gain revenue from their materials. It is about selecting a system which works best for the authority in question.

Veolia Environmental Services UK agrees on this point. The company’s deputy chief executive Paul Levett said: “It is essential for local authorities to have flexibility in determining the type of recycling and waste collection services provided, in order to take account of local demographics, housing stock, road layouts and resident preferences.

“While there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, commingled is popular with residents as it is easy to use and this tends to encourage higher recycling rates. There could also be operational efficiencies and health and safety benefits for operatives.”

But he also welcomes the Government’s inclusion of commingled in the revised Waste Framework Directive legislation.

Although removing commingled collections from the UK interpretation of the WFD would not render the practice illegal, there is a danger that kerbside collections will be seen as a ‘policy preference’. Councils could then be required to purchase new collection vehicles as well as investing in bins and educating the public, depleting already decreased budgets.

It would also mean that without the need to sort mixed recyclates, dozens of MRFs around the country would become obsolete and thousands of people would lose their jobs, which the Government most definitely does not want on its record come 2015.

Most importantly, the case for kerbside sorting technology has not yet been definitively won.

Last week’s Eunomia report, which comprehensively compared collection methods, commented: “When material rejected at the MRF, by secondary processors and by reprocessors is taken into account, differences in tonnage actually recycled between the systems appear to be marginal.”

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