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Most people are trying their best to recycle plastic – but the many different ways in which recycling is collected by different councils across the UK has left them confused.
What can be recycled and what can’t? We are putting more plastic in the recycling than ever before – but pictures of sea life tangled in all manner of waste plastic mean the pressure is on to do more.
The government is now considering changing the way plastic is recycled in England. In the rest of the UK the strategy for recycling is a devolved issue.
Each council collects their plastic recycling differently. BBC analysis shows there are 39 different sets of rules for what can be put in plastic recycling collections:
Around the UK, all four nations are hoping to improve their recycling rates. The review by the government may change the target for recycling in England, but currently the aim is that 50% of waste will be recycled by 2020.
Scotland has a target to recycle 70% of waste by 2025 as does Wales. Northern Ireland has a proposal that 60% of municipal waste is recycled by 2020.
Waste plastic is collected is different ways too:
Councils also employ many different companies to collect and sort their plastics.
And having different recycling schemes in different areas – for example, in some areas you can recycle margarine tubs and in other areas you cannot – makes labelling difficult.
Most people in Britain regularly recycle plastic but almost half have had disagreements at home about what type they can put in which bin, a ComRes poll for the BBC suggests.
And more than a quarter have these disagreements at least once a month.
What to expect from the government’s review?
Of all the things we recycle, plastic is the most complicated. It comes in a profusion of very different types.
Many products carry labels about recycling but some do not. And the labels themselves can be a problem.
Your eye might fall on a recycling symbol but miss the very small print saying the item will not actually be collected from your home.
If you see the phrase “widely recycled” on a packet or carton, it means many councils will take it but not necessarily all of them.
Each of the UK’s local authorities has come to its own decisions about what to accept and what to refuse:
The government realises the arrangements can be confusing, even irritating. And in England it’s undertaking a review of the whole recycling system.
The desire to boost plastic recycling rates is clear. But every option comes with challenges. The word is, we’ll see the government’s plans in November.
Plastic can often become too contaminated for recycling and have to be sent to landfill or incinerated instead. This happens for several reasons:
All plastic can be recycled – but it is not always economical to do so.
Most bottles will be sent for reprocessing in this country.
But plastic that is less valuable – about two-thirds collected for recycling – goes overseas and this figure has been rising.
Earlier this year, the National Audit Office reported the plastic sent abroad could be highly contaminated, meaning it may not be reprocessed and could end up in landfill or contributing to pollution.
Some countries are refusing to take any more of our waste.
These bans are having an effect on the prices paid for waste plastic.
And this year the prices of the more contaminated plastics have fallen below zero, meaning companies are now expecting to be paid to take them away.
Design: Debie Loizou. Development: Eleanor Keane.
AN MP, farmers and the RSPCA have issued warnings over Chinese lanterns after a horse was set on fire and lost part of its tail.
Bastante, a seven-year-old point-to-point racehorse, was also left with a foot-long gaping wound on its leg after it bolted through a wire fence in shock after being hit by a lit lantern.
Sarah Sladen, Bastante’s owner, said it was disgusting that the lanterns were still allowed and called for a ban. “These things should be outlawed, it is as simple as that,” she said.
“The biggest problem is for the animals, because, if it falls into grass, [the lantern is] wire. Grass gets made into hay. You then end up with animals injured through eating the wire that gets into the bales of hay. It’s all of that. They should be got rid of, end of.”
The horse was seen by a vet, and is recovering.
Many have argued that the lanterns endanger wildlife, as they can cause fires, especially during hot weather.
Ruth George, MP for High Peak, had called for a lantern festival happening near her constituency in the Peak District to be cancelled over fire fears.
The event, which has since been called off, was to be held at Buxton Raceway, Derbys, on July 28, with thousands of lit lanterns to be sent into the sky over the Peak District, which has already been subject to fire warnings because of the dry conditions.
Sarah Fowler, chief executive of the Peak District National Park, said: “We welcome the decision by Buxton Raceway to cancel the Manchester/Birmingham Lights Fest at Buxton on the doorstep of the Peak District National Park, which would have put our valuable landscapes, wildlife and farming livelihoods at risk… I share the public’s frustration that the organisers did not consider the impacts of sky lanterns before planning this event so close to the UK’s first National Park, and not least in light of recent wild fire incidents.”
Mike Thomas, a spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union, said: “There is plenty of evidence that shows they can harm animals. We continue to campaign for an outright ban.”
Dr Mark Kennedy, equine specialist at the RSPCA, described the incident with Bastante as “very distressing”. He said horses can be burned by lanterns, and “further injury can be caused as they panic and attempt to escape.” He added: “Even stabled horses are at risk from these devices; the consequence of a burning lantern drifting into a stable or barn full of highly combustible straw and hay are obvious and horrifying.”
An unsuccessful appeal by a landowner against a conviction for knowingly permitting an unauthorised waste operation on its land has highlighted the risks to landowners of incurring criminal liability if former occupiers abandon waste on their land.
The High Court has recently clarified the circumstances in which landowners can face criminal liability for waste abandoned on their land by former occupiers. Commercial landlords need to be aware of the risks and consider how they might be minimised, because the judgment imposes virtually strict liability on landowners in circumstances where occupiers cease trading and abandon waste on their land.
Salhouse Norwich Ltd owned a site in Norwich, which it leased to a mattress recycling business. The business did not have an environmental permit or a waste exemption. In August 2015, the Environment Agency served an enforcement notice on the tenant, requiring it to remove the mattresses. The tenant didn’t comply, and ceased trading, abandoning over 20,000 mattresses (weighing 471 tonnes).
The mattresses remained on the site after the tenant ceased trading. Salhouse Norwich proposed a remedial plan to attempt to clear the site, but the Environment Agency rejected it and charged Salhouse Norwich with the offence of knowingly permitting the storage of waste without an environmental permit. One of Salhouse Norwich’s directors was also charged in a personal capacity, because the company was said to have acted with his consent or connivance, or the offence was attributable to his neglect.
Both Salhouse Norwich and the director were convicted in the Magistrates’ Court, receiving a fine and 150 hours of unpaid community work respectively. They both appealed.
On appeal, the High Court upheld the convictions and found that Salhouse Norwich and the director were guilty because:
All the Environment Agency therefore needed to prove was that Salhouse Norwich and the director knew that the mattresses were present on the land and had done nothing to prevent them being there. There was no need to prove any positive act by them.
What does the case mean for landowners?
The judgment is a harsh outcome for landowners, as it seems to require them to take positive action to clean up their land if former occupiers abandon waste on it. Once they are aware of the presence of a former occupier’s waste on their land, they are guilty of knowingly permitting an illegal waste storage operation if they do nothing to remove it.
In addition to or instead of prosecuting for carrying out illegal waste operations without a permit, the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and local authorities have powers to serve notices on landowners requiring the removal of waste when it has been illegally deposited or illegally stored on land. Failing to comply with such a notice is also an offence. As highlighted in our March 2018 update ‘Imminent changes to waste rules – it’s not all rubbish‘, these powers have recently been extended significantly, and the position now is that a landowner can also be served with a notice requiring it to remove waste when the waste was deposited with legal authority but where that authority has expired, when the occupier cannot be found, or when the occupier was served with a notice but didn’t comply with it. Landowners can also be charged landfill tax if they knowingly permit the illegal deposit of waste on their land.
Our experience is that, where possible and practicable, regulators will pursue occupiers in preference to landowners. However, regulators will look to landowners to make up the shortfall where an occupier has disappeared or become insolvent.
Before allowing a third party such as a tenant or licensee to occupy its land, a landowner should carefully consider the nature of the occupier’s business and whether it involves waste. If it does, the landowner should ask:
If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then the risk of the occupier disappearing and abandoning waste is reduced. Prevention in these circumstances in better than a cure.
Pundits and politicians have been seeking to interpret the results of last week’s local elections. This has increasingly involved contorted meta-analyses whereby the challenge is not so much to look at the electoral outcomes themselves, but to compare the tallies with the degree of optimism or pessimism expressed by each party before polling day.
“Expectations management” has therefore become a necessary tool in the armoury of every spin doctor. If your party’s result is mediocre, but you persuaded people it would be pathetic, this is notched up as an electoral triumph. The consequence is that no one seems to agree objectively on who did well and who did badly or what Thursday’s poll means for the national political picture.
In one area, however, there has been an unbreakable consensus. The central explanatory force for many of the results was, apparently, the quality of local refuse collection. “Bin collection is fundamental,” Tom Brake, a Lib Dem MP, asserted in a television interview to knowing nods from his fellow panellists. “This was about bins not Brexit,” insisted Anna Soubry, a Tory MP, without challenge from the BBC’s interviewer. If the English electorate really did cast their ballots in an attempt to optimise the efficiency of the emptying of dustbins, they have acted in a rational, albeit rather narrow, fashion. Our local councils do not have any direct influence on whether we stay in a customs union with the EU, but they are responsible for picking up our rubbish.
What we should be asking is whether we really need refuse collection to continue to be a competence of municipal government at all or whether we can rely on the open market providing a better service. We don’t troop down to a church or school hall every four years to vote on how our council should provide us with an electricity supply or a telephone connection, so why should we entrust them with picking up our bins?
Perhaps this core responsibility of local government has been with us so long that we have become inured against questioning it. The Public Health Act 1875 first made it a legal obligation for councils to empty bins. In 1936, this statutory duty was strengthened to insist collections must be weekly. That specific requirement was relaxed in 1974 and the frequency with which our bins are emptied has continued to be a highly charged campaigning issue. Latest figures show that about 1 million households, and over 2.5 million residents, are forced to accept rubbish collections only every three or four weeks. The proportion of homes receiving weekly collections has fallen by more than a third since the turn of the decade. Many will point to the squeeze on local government financing, but surely improved technologies should be enabling councils to achieve more with less?
On the face of it, there are some credible reasons for refuse collection to be run by the public sector. First, it has the standard features of a natural monopoly. If a dumpster is travelling around a particular district anyway, then the associated costs of picking up all of the rubbish, rather than just from a proportion of residences, is fairly minimal. Second, there are obvious negative externality effects in play. Typically, I don’t much care how my neighbours arrange their household budgets, but if they do start to save money by allowing stinking refuse to pile up in their front garden, then my quality of life is impacted. The key question is whether new technologies and more imaginative public policy can overcome these inbuilt problems and allow a competitive market to solve the problem of collecting and disposing of household waste. The evidence is that they can.
About ten years ago, before the explosion of the gig economy, a research report by the neoliberal Adam Smith Institute concluded that moving to a privatised “pay as you throw” approach would have widespread benefits. Rather than relying on their council tax to pay for local government bin collections, households would pay privately in broad proportion to the waste they generate and the frequency with which it is collected. The report concluded that the impact on incentives would lead to an increase in recycling by 50 per cent, a reduction in the need for landfill of about 16 per cent, a cut in carbon emissions of millions of tonnes a year and a reduction in average bills. With the enhanced ability to transmit and collect data that we now have in 2018, these improvements would be likely to be even greater today.
New technologies could also help overcome fears that some people might be tempted to save money by fly tipping or allowing enormous amounts of refuse to build up before arranging a collection. Households could be charged with a specific minimal legal duty akin to the requirement for drivers to have basic motor insurance. It would be far easier to spot which homes had gone for many weeks without their rubbish being picked up than it would have been a decade or two ago. Councils might still be charged with carrying out appropriate enforcement processes, but this doesn’t mean they should be in control of the practicalities of collecting waste.
In a world in which we can book a taxi or order a takeaway meal and expect delivery within a matter of minutes, we can surely find a way to unleash the forces of the market to find cheaper and smarter ways to handle waste collection and disposal.
Politicians of all stripes have been insisting that a key driver of last Thursday’s vote was the electorate’s approach to “bread and butter issues”. The catchphrase is, of course, a misnomer. Fortunately, our bread and butter are provided through market mechanisms and not by local government bureaucracies. In a more rational world, we would be treating bin collections in the same way.
Mark Littlewood is director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Twitter: @MarkJLittlewood
Copied from Sunday Telegraph 31 Dec 2017
Let those filling up drunk tanks pick up the tab by Daniel Hannan
Shakespeare, and most likely Falstaff – played above by Sir Antony Sher – would recognise modern-day attitudes to public drinking CREDIT: ROBBIE JACK/CORBIS
The announcement that “drunk tanks” may be rolled out across the UK has prompted amused headlines around the world. I’m afraid we have something of a global reputation when it comes to alcohol abuse. “This heavy-headed revel east and west makes us traduced and tax’d of other nations,” as the poet says. “They clepe us drunkards”.
In our own day, as in Shakespeare’s, we display an unusual attitude to inebriation. In most countries, being drunk in public is disgraceful. The notion that young Brits boast about how hammered they got the night before is met with incredulity in much of Europe.
But here’s the thing. Contrary to the impression you’d get from this week’s headlines – or, indeed, any headlines over the past decade – boozing is becoming less of a problem in the UK. Take any measure you like – binge drinking, overall consumption, alcohol-related crimes. All are in decline.
Why? Partly because, in November 2005, we ended the rule that forced pubs to stop serving at 11pm. It was controversial at the time. The tabloids prophesied societal collapse. The Daily Mail warned against “unbridled hedonism, with all the ghastly consequences that will follow.” The Sun foresaw a “swarm of drunken youngsters.” The Royal College of Physicians predicted “more excess and binge drinking, especially among young people.”
In the event, the opposite happened. Binge drinking among 16 to 24-year- olds sank from 29 to 18 per cent. Overall alcohol sales declined by 17 per cent. Alcohol-related hospital admissions fell sharply. It turned out that forcing drinkers to beat the bell, racing to get a final pint in at last orders, was not a sensible way to discourage consumption. Giving people more responsibility, on the other hand, encouraged them to behave more responsibly.
I suspect the creation of innumerable virtual universes over the past decade has also played its part. Although parents complain about how much time their children spend on screens, that is time that previous generations often spent on more directly harmful addictions. The rise of online gaming and social media has probably also played a part in the reduction of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases – two other developments that bear little relation to popular worries.
The increased use of police facilities or dedicated buses as places where drunks can dry out should be seen for what it is. Not as a response to some new epidemic of crapulous misbehaviour, but as a sensible way of ensuring that A & E facilities are there for the genuinely ill and injured. Being drunk, after all, is not a disease, but a consequence of choices. It is quite wrong to load the cost onto the taxpayer. The people filling the drunk tanks should be presented with the bill for their stay after they sober up.
The Englishman may, as Shakespeare put it, drink with facility the Dane dead drunk, and sweat not to overthrow the Almain. The least he can do is pick up his tab.
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.