Recycling – are we it doing because it seems like a good idea, even though it’s rubbish?

A government sponsored charity called WRAP is a very valuable asset to councils, helping them wade through all the confusing legislation surrounding recycling.  It also adds a degree of weight to the argument that it is the commercial sector and industry that needs to stop generating the amount of materials it does, that aren’t recyable and limit the use of those that are to the minimum.

However, WRAP is advisory, has a limited budget and has no powers that would allow it to make any real changes.  It therefore doesn’t really help when they release a report stating the blindingly obvious – people are confused by recycling, by what can and can’t be recycled.  It tells us that the rules are too complicated and ‘suggests’ that it’s councils that need to do more.

Hardly surprising that they would turn the spotlight away from their paymasters, but nonethelsss disappointing.  It ignores the increasing funding deficit local government is experiencing and fails to offer any real solutions.

Suffice to say, councils are used to being dictated to by central government and told to fix problems created by them in the first place.

If householders want the convenience of throwing everything in the same recycling bin, they had better be prepared to pay dearly for the privilege of doing so.

Even then, paper, card and in particular newspapers and magazines, needs to kept completely clean and uncontamined throughout the process. We should at least be able to expect householders to cooperate on this. If not, we really are fighting a losing battle.

The only way we’ll get any improvement in recycling is to spend money. Believing you can do it by bullying councils by attempting to shift the blame on to them, is not only counter-productive, it’s pointless.

We’ve convinced a large element of the public that they have a duty to recycle, in order to save the planet, but the only way government has demonstrated their commitment, is by short term incentives, that then get withdrawn, or swallowed up in the inpeneratrable morass of the annual local government financial settlement.

The government also continues to behave in what can only be described as a cowardly and evasive way when it comes to showing any form of leadership on the major issues. Too much of the public believe that it is councils that somehow control and determine what does and doesn’t not go into their recycling bins.
Councils have a statutory duty, in law, to collect and dispose of household waste. These days, that household waste get collected in different streams, residual – the non- recyclable stuff and recycling.
In some areas, mainly rural areas, one council collects and another disposes. Large urban areas and cities tend to have unitary councils, that do both. However, the result is the same, once collected and ready for disposal, only the private sector has the infrastructure to process what needs to be disposed of.
Most non-recyclable waste goes into incinerating in the form of energy from waste plants, with less and less going into landfill sites.
Recycling is disposed of, by handing it over to the recycling industry, who have agreed a contract with the council based on what they can and cannot sell on. The volitilty of the recycled materials market, means that most of the contracts are short in length and, if the local authority insists on including materials the recyclers can’t sell, very expensive to the council and therefore their taxpayers.
Why include stuff the companies can’t sell? For exactly the reasons mentioned in the article. The public are already confused and annoyed by the recycling messages received from their councils. Imagine what the response would be if the list of recyclates changed every three or four years?
The Tetrapak issue is a perfect example of this issue. The only company in the country that was recycling these was based in Scotland and stopped operating over 5 years ago.  However, because my own council told our residents that they could recycle them when it was all the fashion, we put in place a contract that requires these to be accepted as part of the mix.
If a company takes on a contract and accepts an item as recyclable that then becomes unsellable, that’s their financial loss.
If a council puts in an unsellable item, its the taxpayer that pays for this to be taken out. If the householder puts it in, despite being asked not to, its contamination and can see a complete freighter load written off and sent for burning, or to landfill.

The government’s threat to pass on the EU £500,000 a day fine for missing the 50% recycling target, to councils, will probably be retained in some form even post Brexit.  The recycling target will be transposed into UK legislation and no doubt so will the threat of the fine.

if this does happen, I suspect we are going to see councils become far more bullish about recycling post Brexit and start pushing back on some of the highminded ideology that has been driving the whole agenda for far too long.

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