The UK will fail to meet EU-based recycling targets unless the Government takes steps to strengthen end markets for all materials collected, the Environmental Services Association (ESA) has warned.
It issued a report on the UK’s ability to deliver on weight-based targets in the circular economy package – recently adopted formally by the European Council – of 65% by 2035.
The report, An Economic Assessment and Feasibility Study of How the UK Could Meet the Circular Economy Package Recycling Targets, found more than half of councils would be able to meet the target of 60% recycling at no additional cost – but only if they were willing to reduce the frequency of waste collections and use the resulting savings to pay for additional recycling.
ESA executive director Jacob Hayler (pictured) said: “The UK is struggling to meet the EU’s existing target of 50% household recycling. This is largely due to an historic lack of funding and policy support in England, particularly on end-markets for recyclates, essential to drive recycling rates higher.
“Current policy delivers current outcomes. If we want higher recycling rates then we will need fresh interventions and additional funding.”
The report said a healthy resource economy “requires action across the supply chain” so that products placed on markets were easy to recycle, and needs economically viable end markets “so that quality materials can be recycled and the materials produced used again, maximising material productivity”.
It noted: “Without a coherent strategy across all elements, which both pushes and pulls materials through the supply chain, recycling levels can stagnate and end markets collapse.”
According to the ESA, by 2030 following ‘business as usual’, England would have only a 52% recycling rate.
This could rise to 56% if there were increased commercial recycling and local authorities cut back residual waste collections to invest savings in recycling, especially food waste.
“With additional measures we could get to an overall recycling rate of 65%, but it will be difficult and could cost significantly more to deliver,” the report said. It suggested that the extra cost to councils could fall between £105m and £315m a year and up to £160m for the commercial sector.
“All scenarios are only possible in the event that the Government introduces policy to strengthen end markets for the use of recycled materials,” the report argued.
A follow-up report will look at whether there could be an alternative to the weight-based system, which the ESA said incentivised collection of heavy low-value materials.