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Recycling’s welcome return to the agenda

Recycling has been back in the limelight these past few days: the real thing, firmly in the middle of the waste hierarchy and not the wider public use of the name - such as MRW!

The stubborn flatline that has been the UK’s flagging household recycling rate for the past couple of years is bound to become a greater political concern as we move towards 2020 and the required 50% target.

Although Defra appears to want to be as hands-off as it can get away with, there has been some welcome intervention. For example, resource minister Rory Stewart has encouraged London councils to adopt more ‘harmonious’ collection systems, saving up to £20m in the process, while a deal with the Netherlands could help the UK to recycle more metals from incinerator bottom ash.

Stewart also hinted strongly that this latter development could lead to Defra eventually allowing IBA from household residual waste to be counted (conveniently) towards the recycling rate.

Liz Goodwin, in her final months at the helm of WRAP, gave a keynote speech at the Resource event this week and warned: “Somehow we have got to a place where recycling has taken on negative connotations for some people,” although she feels our progress remains a success story.

The need for more support from Whitehall to boost recycling is echoed by Foresight partner Nigel Aitchison in our Big Interview.

He would like to see the sort of investment climate that is growing the energy-from-waste sector at the moment.

Stewart is right to ask the European Commission to work harder on the cost-benefits of its circular economy package because the impact on ‘the bottom line’ will be as crucial to waste producers as it is to any business. But it is worrying when he warns that recycling targets might be “overly complex” at a time when we need real commitment to such goals.

Margaret Bates, professor of sustainable wastes management at the University of Northampton, opened her home to an excellent BBC report looking at her waste (and recycled) materials and what happens to them. Such positive portrayals in the media are essential to help improve public perception of waste management and secure what should be a common aim: that the UK recycles substantially more mat-erials in the future than it does now.

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