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Materials lost from recycling stream could cost UK £1bn by 2035


Failure to properly implement EU waste and recycling regulations could cost the UK €1.18bn (£1.02bn) in the value of recyclable materials lost by 2035, a report has warned. 

The report, from the European Commission Directorate General for the Environment and compiled by consultancies Eunomia and COWI, says the UK is already on track to have lost £153m in materials value in the three years leading up to 2020. ’Materials value’ refers to money the UK misses out on had it sold the materials.

The report The costs of not implementing EU environmental law looks at how well the UK is implementing environmental regulations, including those for waste. It measures the gap between the regulation target and how the UK is actually performing, and has been able to put a monetary value on that gap – in this case how much has been lost through not recycling materials.

The report then looks ahead to 2030-35 targets and, based on how the UK is currently performing and assuming it carries on behaving in the same way, what the implementation gap would be. Again, it has been able to assign a monetary value to this.

Lead author of the report and senior environmental economist at Eunomia, Tanzir Chowdhury, said the 2030-35 implementation gaps were not ’projection models’, and did not predict how the UK could act to improve implementation or introduce legislation and funding to back recycling infrastructure and reduce waste.

But he warned that many of the figures included in the report were “conservative estimates” because reliable data on some of the benefits were not always forthcoming – such as for illegal waste shipments. Unreliable data was left out of the report.

A lack of information on waste crime was highlighted as an issue. The report characterised this dearth as preventing a “thorough and accurate assessment of the scale of non-implementation and associated costs” in the waste sector. The report warned: “Should greater visibility of waste crime be achieved, then more sizeable costs may become apparent.”

Socio-economic benefits of proper implementation of waste regulations were also not included in the report because there was no reliable data. This means the benefits of things increased employment, better public health and safety, and reduction in marine litter, for example, were not counted.

Nevertheless, Chowdhury argued that a trend is apparent: “It is crucial to understand the effects that failing to meet environmental targets has on the EU economy.

“This report clearly shows how important it is to ensure that member states are complying with environmental legislation: meeting the targets will result in stronger economies, better public health and, of course, a diverse natural environment for our children to enjoy well into the future.”

The research found that non-implementation of the 2020 Waste Framework, Packaging and Landfill Directive targets is forecast to result in eight million tonnes of material not being recycled, including five million tonnes of biodegradable waste sent to landfill.

For 2035 targets, this rises to 20 million tonnes of waste not recycled across EU member states and 42 million tonnes of extra landfill. Food waste reduction targets in the Waste Framework Directive currently have an implementation gap of 30.8 million tonnes – a significant lost value in food.

This article was updated on 11 April to correct the cost in pounds for the headline figure


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