Biffa has backed the continuation of commingled household collections but with separate food waste services, in a report on ways to increase recycling.
Report author Jeff Rhodes, Biffa’s head of environment and external affairs, said UK recycling rates had quadrupled since 2000 but then stalled at around 45%, and the ”need to increase recycling is now high on the public and political agenda”.
He proposed in Recycling Collections for the Real World that business generating more than 5kg of food waste – and all households – should be required to separate food from residual waste.
This was because both anaerobic digestion and composting gave better environmental results than incineration.
Under the Environment Bill, the TEEP (technically, environmentally and economically practicable) exemption on what local authorities are required to collect would be removed. Resources minister Therese Coffey has said that the Bill ”will determine not how they collect it but what they collect”.
But Rhodes said it would be a backward step to force multiple separate materials collections on households because these would be less user-friendly and so capture fewer materials, while also being cumbersome for residents and collectors and “in our experience…costlier as a system”.
Biffa said there was “ample evidence that the required high standards for end markets can be met through now well-established co-mingled [sic] collection systems and efficient, quality-oriented sorting facilities”.
This should be matched with collection frequencies that people could readily understand and simple, easy to use wheeled bins.
Despite this, Rhodes said separate paper and card collection for households “may have a helpful role”.
He explained: “We have ample evidence at Biffa that we can meet increasing global standards for paper and cardboard through co-mingled systems, but our evidence also suggests it is often more cost-effective for local authorities to collect paper and card separately, to reduce processing costs, providing householders are encouraged to respond to it.”
This would be a decision for councils based on cost against convenience rather than on quality of materials, Rhodes added.
Greater clarity was needed on what can and cannot be recycled, in particular on items such as carrier bags and plastic films, drinks cartons made from composite materials, black plastic food trays and textiles.
“These are presently not capable of being recycled through mainstream collection and sorting systems,” the report said.
“We should work to ensure that local authority household waste recycling centres offer collection points where local reuse or recycling routes do exist for such materials, while working to phase-out hard-to-recycle materials at source, wherever possible.”
Rules for business waste collections should – apart from requiring separation of food waste – avoid being too prescriptive since “businesses’ needs are too varied and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all solution’ ”.