Greater consistency in household collections by England’s councils could increase the recycling rate by seven percentage points by 2025, recover an extra 11 million tonnes of dry recyclable materials and food waste, and significantly reduce contamination, according to WRAP.
But the charity’s detailed look at council collections concludes that a national colour scheme for boxes, bags and bins would pose an unnecessary cost burden of around £29m a year across a decade and needs further consideration.
The charity has published a report, Framework for Greater Consistency in Household Recycling for England, following work with an advisory group of representatives from across the sector, and supported by Defra and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
If adopted, everyone in England would be recycling the same set of eight core materials by 2025: paper, card, plastic bottles and other rigid plastic packaging, metal packaging, glass containers, food and beverage cartons, and food waste.
WRAP is also calling for packaging to be designed to be recyclable, where practical and environmentally beneficial, and labelled clearly to indicate whether it can be recycled.
The framework draws on local authority and industry good practice that WRAP says has the potential to bring financial and other benefits. Cumulative benefits estimated during an eight-year period include:
- 11.6 million tonnes of extra recyclable material diverted from disposal, including more than eight million tonnes of food waste
- Avoidance of around five million tonnes of greenhouses gases released into the atmosphere
- An increase to England’s recycling rate by seven percentage points – currently stuck on 44%
WRAP says the industry’s collective vision is that ”by 2025, packaging is designed, where practical and environmentally beneficial, to be recycled and is labelled clearly to indicate whether it can be recycled or not. Every household in England can recycle a common set of dry recyclable materials and food waste, collected in one of three ways.”
The three collection systems presented in the framework are: multi-stream with food; two-stream with food separate; and commingled mixed recyclables with food separate. In each system core materials, including plastic pots, tubs and trays and aerosols, known to cause confusion, are collected.
This would also have a beneficial effect on the level of contamination, which the Resource Association has calculated costs UK reprocessors more than £51m each year.
In separate supporting evidence and analysis, WRAP concludes: “Greater consistency in materials collected will help to reduce contamination from non-target materials which, in turn, will reduce costs to reprocessors of ‘cleaning up’ or removing contamination from sorted materials prior to reprocessing. These costs potentially could be reduced by up to £33m (cumulative between 2018 and 2025) if all local authorities were to collect multi-stream.”
WRAP chief executive Marcus Gover, who chaired the advisory group, said a thriving UK recycling industry had been created in the past 15 years and recycling was now a way of life.
“By pooling the wealth of recycling experience from across the sectors, we have developed a vision that offers the opportunity to increase recycling, improve the quality of recycled materials, save money and offer a good service to householders. It is only by joining together that we can now realise the benefits of the vision, and I look forward to working with all those involved to do that.
“More consistent household recycling isn’t going to be easy. It will require the collective action of brands, retailers, manufacturers, councils, waste management companies and reprocessors.”
The work will be developed on four fronts:
- Seven local authority areas are evaluating the business case for consistency
- A group, chaired by Iain Ferguson, environment manager for the Co-operative, is considering key issues on the recyclability of packaging
- Charlotte Carroll, sustainable business and communications director at Unilever, is chairing a group looking at innovative communications and messages
- A review of sorting infrastructure in support of greater consistency will start soon
Steve Lee, chief executive of CIWM: “If the world of resources can’t and won’t stand still, then neither can the way we collect our waste to put it back to work. This is an important step to better align our different practices and performance on waste collection and recycling but it won’t happen overnight. There is an enormous amount of detailed work still to be done to underpin this shared vision, and we need to make sure that the business case for change stacks up for councils. This is genuinely worth working for, however, and the CIWM and its members will continue to support this important initiative.”
Environmental Services Association executive director Jacob Hayler: “Greater consistency in household collections clearly has the potential to boost recycling by making it easier for households, and also to save councils money by facilitating more joint working. The ESA supports both of these outcomes, and looks forward to engaging with WRAP and Defra as they build on this initial framework.”
Andrew Bird, chair, Larac: “Right from the start it became clear that the best way to achieve any sort of consistency across the UK was to focus on the materials that were collected and not the method used to collect them. In terms of the UK achieving higher levels of recycling, it makes sense that food waste is one of the materials that forms part of what a high-achieving system might look like. By focusing on the materials, it has meant the work was truly cross-industry and this sort of cross-industry working is something Larac has called for recently on several occasions if we are to take things forward in a productive manner.”
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