Residual waste treatment facilities already in the pipeline could limit the English local authority recycling rate to just 60%, according to a new report.
This limit on council recycling rates will remain “well beyond 2020” unless many long-term contracts for treatment facilities can be renegotiated, according to the latest issue of Eunomia’s Residual Waste Infrastructure Review.
The review said the 60% limit is based on the “conservative assumption” that only the 2 million tonnes per annum (tpa) of residual waste treatment capacity commissioned by local authorities that has reached at least ‘preferred bidder’ status reaches financial close.
In contrast, the report highlights that Scotland now has a potential recycling rate of 82% and Wales 79%, because they were slower to invest in residual waste treatment infrastructure.
Figures show that for English councils, 3 million tpa of contracted capacity have reached preferred bidders status (see chart below). This will add to the existing 8.3 million tpa capacity already operational or under construction.
This limits future additional recycling (including composting or anaerobic digestion) to the remaining tonnage of residual waste of 4.6 million tpa.
This is another 17.6% recycling potential to add to the existing 42.4% English recycling rate achieved in 2012-13.
These findings are based on Eunomia modelling, which suggests that local authority collected waste will grow by 0.5% each year.
Adam Baddeley, the report’s lead author, said: “It’s worrying that we are already in danger of limiting how far we can go with recycling in England. If we genuinely aspire to develop a circular economy, then we must shift the focus of investment away from residual waste towards options further up the hierarchy.
“The residual waste treatment plants we have built, and are building, will be with us for many years to come. Rather than making production and consumption sustainable, we are putting in place infrastructure that needs existing consumption patterns to continue in order to sustain it.”
In November 2012, Eunomia reported that there were seven million tonnes more capacity than the amount of residual waste requiring treatment in the UK.