In 2014, we were concerned about the how the Waste Framework Directive would be implemented and enforced, as well as the implications of the MRF Code of Practice. So were the concerns justified?
Well, the development of the Routemap has helped many councils to navigate their way through the complexities of the legislation and undertaking their TEEP assessments. There have been a number of challenges to individual authorities from campaign groups and, while nothing beyond exchanges of letters between parties at this stage, I suspect we might still see further action being taken.
The Environment Agency, for its part, is clearly still looking at information supplied by authorities, but with limited resources. I do wonder what its aims will be in enforcing the legislation – perhaps we will see more during 2016.
Results from the MRF regulations still appear to be somewhat up in the air. It was always going to be difficult in the first year to achieve consistency in the samples being taken and analysed between different facilities, and presumably different companies’ approaches to the regulations and the sampling regime.
What is reassuring is that the waste industry’s major players are taking it seriously and, from what I see and hear, loads of material inputs are being rejected because of high levels of contamination. This presents an issue which councils will have to deal with, possibly more effectively than they have in the past.
Commingling solutions are popular, and understandably so, with around 50% of authorities operating this type of service. From a householder’s perspective, commin- gled services are easy: they simply put all their dry recycling in a bin. The problem is that they will also put other items in as well, usually food, nicely concealed from the top layer and therefore very difficult to spot by collection crews.
Communication with residents is vital, but with financial cuts in the past five years, campaigns have been an easy target. The problem is that rejected loads costs a significant amount of money, which if not managed will have a bigger impact on an authority’s budget.
We had a general election in 2015, followed by new ministers. Rory Stewart, the resources minister, is interested in the subject of recycling and resource recovery, and appears keen to do something positively and engage with the wider industry – even stating he wishes to see the UK as a top-performing recycler in Europe.
Stewart has laid down the challenge that he wishes to see greater consistency in recycling collections throughout England, citing the fact that the hundreds of collection methods results in householder confusion and therefore lower recycling rates. Actually there are three core systems: fully commingled; two-stream, where either paper or glass is kept separate; or source-separated.
Confusion occurs because of the variance in materials collected by councils, particularly with plastics. It becomes too easy just to throw items away in the general waste. Or if it does go in the recycling bin, it is not the target material collected by the authority for its particular processing method for recyclables.
A working group has been set up by Defra, managed by WRAP, to inform the minister on how consistency could be achieved, and LARAC is part of the group ensuring the local authority voice is represented. Discussions so far are positive, and there is cross-industry representation on the working group, who are all keen to make progress.
Of course the ‘how’ will be difficult against a background of further cuts in funding for the public sector and a reluctance by the Government to burden industry with more legislation.
But I am sure that if we can agree on a standard range of materials across the country that a council should look to collect, and agree that, yes, a metal top on a glass bottle or jar can stay on or a plastic top on a plastic bottle can stay on, we can start to break down the barriers in householder confusion about recycling.
For me, consistency in what is collected rather than how it is collected is the key.
Andrew Bird is chair of LARAC