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UK market accommodates both recycling and EfW

Gordon Anderson

I read with interest the various claims and statistics quoted in the MRW article ‘UK falls for Swedish model of energy recovery’, and felt compelled to write of my own company’s experience in the fields in the past ten years.

Paperback Collection & Recycling is a residuals processing plant based in North Wales that accepts residual wastes from MRF plants in England and Wales in equal measure. We achieve an impressive recycling rate across paper/board, metals, glass and mixed plastics.

Since 2005-2006 we have been the recipient of materials that could and should have achieved higher levels of recycling through the processing put in place and funded in large part by Government led PFI schemes. In the early part of the decade the Government led a programme that consistently and exclusively encouraged and rewarded the use of commingled recovery and collection of household waste.

The schemes and the respective tenders were termed and formulated in such a manner as to only to be really open to the main six largest waste management companies operating in the UK at that time.

In due course commingled collections were installed by most large scale municipal waste contract operators almost without exception. Some operations (notably in Wales) resisted the temptation to mingle all manner of waste together and they still do so today.

Today the collections and sorting systems in operation are characterised by their dependence upon commingling of materials at some points in their post use life cycle. Some commingling persists therefore in various parts of the recycling and lifespan chain whether at the point of collection or at post collection recycling plants.

The experience of recycling of waste materials that have been subjected to wholesale or piecemeal commingling offers a salutary lesson for anyone attempting to “optimise recycling recovery”. Add to this fact the recent imposition of normal standards of recycling quality by China in paper and board now followed by the same for all imported recycled polymers and you have a picture that some recycling merchants in the UK are struggling to cope with.

This latter point is wholly ignored in the MRW article and yet it is vital that it should be recognised in our view since the UK has not abandoned recycling targets in favour of a Swedish system – rather it has developed a series of measures led by the market to accommodate recycling and energy generation in equal and appropriate measure.

There is no one “ideal solution” to the conundrum of maximised recycling versus use of energy recovery from waste. What is equally certain in our view is having worked extensively with Swedish, German and Norwegian operators of both waste incineration and recyclate recovery the UK is well placed to end its dependence upon exporting valuable waste to European markets for their respective countries to maintain a position of control over UK recycling and waste recovery solutions.

It is time for this debate to move on to the more detailed questions of what it is realistic to achieve through recycling in order to supply the UK and world markets. The same is true of resource and energy recovery through advanced thermal and conversion treatments that are emerging in the UK.

The UK is well on its way in a muddled fashion, since in truth both recycling and energy-from-waste recovery can and should operate side by side in the UK. The two are not and never were meant to be mutually exclusive.

Gordon Anderson is managing director of Paperback Collection & Recycling

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