Defra has issued an upwards revision of the amount of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste generated in England during the past eight years, in response to pressure from industry.
The Environmental Services Association (ESA) has argued for a number of years that Defra underestimates the amount of C&I waste.
Defra has now admitted the figures were unreliable, partly because of the way waste is classified when arriving at waste transfer stations.
Investigations revealed that around seven million tonnes of C&I material entering waste transfer stations in 2012 as ’mixed municipal waste’ was recategorised as ’secondary waste’ before being sent for treatment or disposal, meaning it was left out of the figures.
The previous 2012 published figure for England, 24.2 million tonnes, has been revised to 34.2 million tonnes. The 2014 figure of 19.8 million tonnes for England has been pushed up to 32.8 million tonnes.
Defra said: “The latest methodology has been developed with considerable input from industry experts and sense-checked against alternative data sources.
“Defra believes the latest estimates to be the most reliable figures that can be reasonably produced with the currently available data.”
Meanwhile, the UK recycling rate for waste from households was 45.2% in 2016, increasing from 44.6% in 2015, and now includes the metals recovered from incinerator bottom ash. The recycling rate, from the latest Defra data, increased in all nations: England was 44.9%, Northern Ireland 43.0%, Scotland 42.8% and Wales 57.3%.
Biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) sent to landfill in 2016 was around 7.7 million tonnes, the same for 2015, or 22% of the 1995 baseline value.
While the UK is not on track to hit its EU household waste target of 50% by 2020, it is well on track to the BMW target of 35% to landfill compared with 1995.
In 2016, 71.4% of UK packaging waste was either recycled or recovered compared with 64.7% in 2015. This exceeds the EU target to recycle or recover at least 60% of packaging waste.
The ESA commended Defra for coming up with a “much more transparent and reliable approach to estimating the total amount of C&I waste”.
Chief executive Jacob Hayler said: “Last year, ESA members raised concerns about the data published by Defra on this waste stream, which in their view significantly underestimated the amount of waste out there.
“The new approach tallies better with industry’s own analysis and other data sets, which gives more confidence and clarity around the reported figures, and establishes a better platform for understanding future trends and changes.“
Defra C&I waste figures
Jeff Rhodes, Biffa’s head of environment and member of the Defra data group:
The measures and criteria used for C&I waste reporting from Defra have been altered on a number of occasions over the years. This made meaningful interpretation of changes and trends – vital to informing future operational decision-making – highly challenging, quite apart from uncertainties around the actual volumes. When further major adjustments were made in the data published in December 2016, many in the waste industry raised serious concerns.
It was therefore very encouraging when Defra responded constructively and invited industry representatives, including Biffa, onto their waste data group to discuss it. Once it was recognised that the Defra and Environment Agency annual waste statistics reports were important to the waste industry and to potential investors – despite their original purpose being for UK compliance reporting into the EU – it was clear that collaborative working to devise a clearer methodology going forward was to everyone’s benefit.
This is exactly the type of collaborative working the sector needs when it comes to data, policy and regulation – bringing together all those with an interest to examine the problem and identify a solution. The waste industry has undertaken much analytical work over the last couple of years and is only too happy to engage with regulators and policy-makers to use that research for the benefit of the sector, and the country as a whole. These analytical projects are of key importance at a time when the UK is developing its own post-Brexit waste strategy and trying to encourage investment in UK waste infrastructure and services.
By working with industry, sharing knowledge and cross-checking against other existing, relevant datasets, Defra has been able to come up with a much more transparent and reliable approach to gathering and presenting C&I waste arisings data. Not only does this give more confidence and clarity around the reported figures, but it establishes a better platform and approach going forwards, which will also help to enable trends and changes to be better understood and proactively addressed.