Better infrastructure and a uniform approach to separated household collections are among measures needed if the UK is to meet the latest recycling targets endorsed by the European Parliament.
The message has come from companies across the industry, which also want clarity on whether the targets will be applied in the UK after Brexit.
MEPs earlier this month agreed new recycling targets – including 65% of municipal by 2035 and 70% of packaging by 2030 and mandatory separate food waste collections by 2023.
Peter Clayson, general manager for business development and external affairs at DS Smith Recycling, said: “Actions speak louder than words, and the Government must now lead the way by legislating for [these] higher targets.”
He said the UK had reached a point where recycling figures had begun to stagnate because municipal figures “are restricted, in part, by a lack of nationwide consistency”, while commercial recycling rates were impressive.
England’s lack of uniform recycling policies across local authorities caused public confusion, which “means that recyclate often fails to meet the high-quality standards required by reprocessors”, Clayson said.
Separate collections of recyclables would maximise material quality and help to achieve the new targets, he added.
Equipment manufacturer Stadler also called for uniformity. It said councils should agree to end commingled recycling if the EU targets were to be met.
Ruben Maistry, sales manager at Stadler Engineering, said: “Commingling of municipal recycling does not bode well for improved recycling rates, and without collection uniformity, contamination will remain high.”
But Dominic Hogg, chair of consultancy Eunomia, said the targets set “could have been higher”.
“In some cases, there are more than 10 years to get to the targets, so plenty of time for member states to change their practices to achieve them,” he said. ”I would say that we have to be exceeding the recycling targets if we’re serious about addressing climate change.”
Richard Kirkman, chief technology and innovation officer at Veolia UK and Ireland, said: “Weight-based targets set by regulators can help, although they should not be relied on alone and we believe value – both environmental and financial – is important to consider.
“If we are going to collect more it is fundamental that recyclable materials are used by manufacturers, and that products bought by consumers are easily recyclable in the first place.”
He said that energy recycling through thermal or organic treatments “should be acknowledged as part of the suite of options we need that deliver a positive environmental outcome”.
Viridor’s regulatory affairs director Dan Cooke said: “The real challenge now is to get clarity in the UK on whether we will adopt these European targets or set our own in due course, and to bring all sectors together to achieve our recycling, reprocessing and circular economy ambitions.”