I had a chat the other day with a very well-informed shop owner about his fears that his carefully separated recycling was all being dumped into one container and sent to landfill. I assured him this was unlikely, but that councils sometimes were forced to divert material to incineration.
The ongoing drama between unions and Birmingham City Council, for instance, has at times lead to a backlog of material that needs to be shifted pronto because it’s got nowhere else to go.
The shop owner was also well-versed in waste shipments to China. This conversation shows the extent to which the general public is getting involved with the resources debate – unsurprising given the amount of coverage in papers and on primetime TV.
It is clear the effective management of the UK’s waste needs the willing co-operation of the public. But there are signs this is not happening, with the percentage of target material received by MRFs having decreased by 0.6% since the previous quarter. Local authorities are collecting ever-more contaminated recycling from householders.
There will be many reasons for this, but a key concern has to be a lack of local government resources to get residents on-board with the system.
Peter Jones, principal consultant at Eunomia, said councils were struggling to get on top of the problem of contamination: “It’s a real challenge, but one where targeted communication with householders can make a significant difference and produce savings.”
Whatever the impact of Defra’s consultation on harmonising household collections, if councils don’t get extra funds for recycling services, the situation won’t improve.