The Environmental Services Association (ESA) has said recycling targets should not rely on weight-based measurements but instead use alternative methods such as carbon metrics, depending on the material stream.
A report for the association written by consultancy Ricardo looked at what will be needed to meet weight-based recycling targets, proposed by the EU circular economy package, of 65% by 2035.
The report Why Wait? Weight Isn’t Working suggested that instead of an absolute target for recycling, individual material streams could each have their own target in a ‘dashboard’ of metrics tailored to each.
The report argued that although weight-based measures had its uses, a carbon metric for some materials would “link better with the natural capital approach being pursued by Defra”.
It added that products containing hard-to-recycle materials should attract a recovery charge, which could be used to invest in product redesign.
ESA executive director Jacob Hayler (pictured) said: “Current EU waste policy measures success or failure on the basis of how heavy something is when it is recycled.
“There is clearly scope in a post-Brexit world for us to do something much smarter which actually focuses properly on environmental outcomes and enables us to capture more value from our waste resources.”
The ESA said weight-based targets lacked sophistication and could have unintended consequences, for example collecting garden waste to increase performance.
Weight-based targets brought a “focus on quantity [which] can mean that quality is compromised, with low-quality/contaminated materials sent to be recycled”, it said, while end-of-life targets failed to create any driver for producers to design products that are easier to reuse or recycle.
The ESA said different metrics would allow different parts of the value chain to “demonstrate their input and responsibilities”.
It added that, at national level, the metrics that would need to be reported included: resource productivity, environmental performance, carbon use, circularity and secondary material use.
Local authorities in the medium term could undertake waste composition analysis to provide material-specific monitoring data that allowed a material-specific focus and provide data for future material stream capture targets.
Metrics to monitor producers’ environmental performance could include the percentage of recycled content within products and material recovery targets for problem materials.
Environment minister Therese Coffey indicated in June that the UK could move away from weight-based recycling targets following Brexit.