Analysis by two consultancies, Eunomia and COWI, have put a price on the UK missing its recycling targets.
The report was commissioned by the European Commission Directorate General for the Environment, and it warned that failure to properly implement EU waste and recycling regulations could cost the UK €1.18bn (£1.02bn) in the value of recyclable materials lost by 2035.
It said the UK is already on track to have lost £153m in materials value in the three years leading up to 2020. ‘Materials value’ refers to money the UK misses out on had it sold the materials.
The calculation was made by measuring the gap between the regulation target and how the UK is actually performing, and has been able to put a monetary value on that gap – in this case, how much has been lost through not recycling materials.
The report then looks ahead to 2030-35 targets and, based on how the UK is currently performing and assuming it carries on behaving in the same way, what the implementation gap would be. Again, it has been able to assign a monetary value to this.
Lead author of the report and senior environmental economist at Eunomia, Tanzir Chowdhury, said the 2030-35 implementation gaps were not ‘projection models’, and did not predict how the UK could act to improve implementation or introduce legislation and funding to back recycling infrastructure and reduce waste.
But he warned that many of the figures included in the report were “conservative estimates” because reliable data on some of the benefits were not always forthcoming – such as for illegal waste shipments. Unreliable data was left out of the report.
“The pure tonnages are so high because the target is a percentage of waste generated, and the UK generates more packaging waste than all but three other member states.”
A lack of information on waste crime was highlighted as an issue. The report characterised this dearth as preventing a “thorough and accurate assessment of the scale of non-implementation and associated costs” in the waste sector. The report warned: “Should greater visibility of waste crime be achieved, then sizeable costs may become apparent.”
Socio-economic benefits of proper implementation of waste regulations were also not included in the report because there was no reliable data. This means the benefits of things that increased employment, better public health and safety and reduced marine litter, for example, were not counted.
Nevertheless, Chowdhury argued that a trend is apparent: “It is crucial to understand the effects that failing to meet environmental targets has on the EU economy.
“This report shows how important it is to ensure that member states are complying with environmental legislation: meeting the targets will result in stronger economies, better public health and a diverse natural environment to be enjoyed well into the future.”
The research found that non-implementation of the 2020 Waste Framework, Packaging and Landfill Directive targets is forecast to result in eight million tonnes of material not being recycled, including five million tonnes of biodegradable waste sent to landfill.
For 2035 targets, this rises to 20 million tonnes of waste not recycled across the EU and 42 million tonnes of extra landfill. Food waste reduction targets in the Waste Framework Directive currently have an implementation gap of 30.8 million tonnes – a significant lost value in food.
Packaging was an area of potential concern for the UK. It is just about on course to hit 2020 targets, falling short of 0.3%. This comprises 34,000 tonnes being lost or not recycled.
But if the UK carries on in the same way, by 2030, 5.3% of packaging will not be recycled compared to its targets. This does not sound bad, but the tonnages involved are massive and jump to 608,200.
Chowdhury said: “The pure tonnages are so high because the target is a percentage of waste generated, and the UK generates more packaging waste than all but three other member states. In this case, it is probably fairer to compare the percentage figures on the [implementation gap against 2030 targets]. On that basis, 11 member states have a larger gap to their target than the UK – some significantly so.”
The report did not only look at the UK and its focus was the EU as a whole. It found that the failure to follow waste regulations will cost the waste sector across member states a total of €4bn by 2020 and €107bn by 2035.
These calculations considered implementation of: targets contained in the revised directives on waste; the food waste prevention sustainable development goal; landfill compliance (illegal landfill); and the ELV, WEEE and Batteries Directives.
The report also focused on EU environmental legislation and not simply waste. The top line figure for not implementing environmental law – across seven policy areas – was €55bn. Waste management was among four policy areas that a 2017 Environmental Implementation Review said were most urgent across member states.