Recycling reset: how England can stop subsidizing waste warns local authorities in England are spending £300m every year dealing with waste packaging, and that it is time for the companies which produce it to reach into their pockets.
According to the report, packaging comprises 20% of the household waste stream by weight, and 10% of commercial and industrial wastes.
It also estimates that dealing with packaging when it is thrown away costs English local authorities around a third of a billion pounds every year
The report recommends companies that create packaging in the first place help meet some of the recycling and disposal costs through ‘producer responsibility payments’.
Although companies that use recycled materials in their packaging, or design it in a way to make recycling easier and instruct customers on recycling be allowed to pay lower fees.
In addition, it recommends that councils should have the power to charge households if they do not recycle everything they can.
‘Recycling in England has become dysfunctional,’ said report author, Jonny Hazell. ‘Businesses blame local authorities, local authorities blame businesses, and householders blame both.
‘The only certain thing is that hard-pressed councils are having to pick up an unfair share of the bill, despite their obvious financial constraints. But they have no power to bring down the costs.
‘A more consistent system would cost less and be fairer for all,’ added Mr Hazell. ‘It would also guarantee that British manufacturers get more of the high-quality recycled materials they need and reduce their dependence on imports.’
The chief executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), Lee Marshall, backed the Green Alliance’s call for more funding to come to local authorities from packaging producers and other schemes.
‘However, the industry-wide work undertaken by WRAP last year on consistency and which LARAC supported showed and acknowledged that you cannot have more consistent collections if you do have more consistent design of products and reprocessing,’ added Mr Marshall.
‘There are going to be instances where having more consistency in collections will mean savings can be achieved, but those instances are more likely if we get the product design and material choices consistent at the start and LARAC believes that where revised produce responsibility can really kick-start things’
The Local Government Association’s environment spokesperson, Cllr Martin Tett, commented that councils are ‘generally keen to encourage people to recycle as much as possible’.
‘However, it is important for everyone to understand that they should follow industry standards to ensure that any recycling is not contaminated,’ added Cllr Tett.
‘Retailers and manufacturers must also do more to bring down the 23 million tonnes of waste generated each year.’
The report also urges local authorities and producers to make the most of the Waste and Resources Action Programme, better known as WRAP.
‘One advantage England has in adapting models developed elsewhere is WRAP’s expertise,’ the report states.
‘One area for WRAP to advise upon would be which materials and packaging formats should be eligible for recycled content bonuses.
‘Using recycled materials is harder for some applications, such as food contact plastics, than others.
‘There are also global market dynamics, such as declining paper demand or low oil prices, which affect the competitiveness of recycled materials, especially where their environmental advantages are largely uncosted.
‘Incentives should be restricted to those applications and materials which are hardest to recycle back into their original use,’ the report adds.
A spokesperson for WRAP told Environment Journal: ‘Recycling and resource management is, and has always been, a priority area of work for WRAP. We are key players in this space with a strong evidence base and reputation for bringing the sector together to take action. Being highlighted in this way is welcomed recognition for the contribution we are making.’
The Green Alliance report was published as WRAP revealed new figures, showing £13bn of edible food was thrown away from homes in 2015.
WRAP is now calling on everyone to ‘unite in the food waste fight.’
‘Citizens are wasting one million tonnes less food per year, which means over eight million tonnes less food waste than when we started tackling this issue in 2007,’ said WRAP chief executive, Marcus Gover.
‘But it is incredibly challenging to reduce food waste, and the stalling of progress shows just how difficult it is. That’s why I’m calling on all businesses, organisations, campaigners and NGOs who work in this area, to unite together in in the fight against food waste. By working together we can win this battle.’
The chief executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), Charlotte Morton, said the WRAP figures reinforced the need for separate food waste collection around the country.
‘We’re calling on DEFRA to finally properly enforce the waste hierarchy and to follow the examples of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland by rolling out long-overdue separate food waste collections in England,’ said Ms Morton.
‘This would make householders and businesses more aware of the amount of food they are wasting, the most effective way of reducing the amount of food waste generated in the first place, reduce the amount of food waste going to landfill and incineration, and allow more food waste to be recycled through AD into valuable green gas and biofertiliser.’
Photo by Photographing Travis