Government recycling targets to date have focused exclusively on municipal waste .The recycling of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste has largely been driven by increasing landfill tax and Corporate Responsibility (CR).
Until 2009, the market had no visibility of landfill tax rates beyond £48 per tonne and therefore, based solely on economic considerations, landfill remained the preferred solution for most C&I waste. The recent announcement that landfill tax will increase to £80 per tonne by 2014 means that landfill will no longer be economically attractive relative to recycling and treatment – providing of course that the required recycling and treatment infrastructure can obtain planning consent and get built.
The decision to divert waste from landfill will not be taken solely for economic reasons. Many companies are publicly advocating their landfill diversion credentials as part of their environmental and CR policies. A lack of investment in new landfill capacity (as result of the landfill tax) will mean that there will be no landfill capacity in some parts of the UK before the end of the next decade – this could force waste to travel longer distances to areas which do have capacity .
As in so many things there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and different businesses will embrace recycling and treatment to a greater or lesser extent and sooner or later. This depends on a range of circumstances including availability of alternatives, relative costs, absolute volumes of waste, waste ‘quality’ and physical space for segregation and multiple containers.
Businesses which produce large absolute volumes of specific materials are likely to have already achieved high recycling rates. Such entities eg. manufacturing facilities will often have very large containers dedicated for specific materials such as scrap metal, cardboard and timber. In some cases the income from the sale of good quality waste materials can offset or exceed the collection cost.
Many medium sized businesses which currently have waste collected on an unsegregated basis are increasingly likely to move to a dual stream collection service with dry recyclables being collected in one container and organic materials and contamination being collected in a separate residual waste bin.
It is likely that the dry recyclables will be processed through a traditional MRF albeit that this material may sometimes be treated separately from co-mingled municipal waste streams.
Probably the most challenging segment of the C&I market are the very small businesses whose absolute waste volumes are low and who often have limited or even non-existent storage space for waste containers. Some of these businesses have started to use private recycling collection services, whilst others take their waste home or deposit it in street litter bins. Addressing this market will require innovation from waste management companies and a commitment to do the ‘right thing’ by small businesses – I am confident that we will succeed together.