A new front in the war against waste

Recycling Point

Photograph: Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

By James Carson

This summer the European Commission announced new measures on waste management. The proposals include a target to recycle 70% of municipal solid waste by 2025. The Commission believes that turning Europe into a “circular economy” will have multiple benefits, including:

  • preventing the loss of valuable materials;
  • creating jobs and economic growth;
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts.

The proposed measures add to the waste management challenges already facing local authorities. Under an existing EU directive, councils must achieve a household recycling target of 50% by 2020. Most have invested heavily in waste and recycling services over the past two decades, greatly improving the national waste recycling rate.

But recently progress has stalled. The UK’s recycling rate in 2013 was 46%, but in England the rate slipped back to 43.2%, while in Scotland the figure was 41.2%. Only a 52.3% figure from Wales prevented the UK recycling rate falling further.  The UK figures are in stark contrast to municipal recycling rates in other European countries.  In Austria, 63% of household waste is recycled, while Germany (62%) and Belgium (58%) are well on their way to achieving the 70% target many years ahead of schedule.

One local authority taking the war against waste to householders’ doorsteps is Croydon Council. Recycling officer, Joanna Dixon, believes community engagement is at the core of improving the rate of recycling, as she explained to Materials Recycling World (MRW):

 “We analysed a lot of data and identified those households [with low or non-existent recycling rates] and then knocked on doors to find out why.”

At the same time, Croydon’s householders were informed that non-compliance with recycling regulations would result in an £80 penalty. As a result, participation in recycling leapt from 0% to 69%.

Other councils, however, regard the enforcement element in the carrot-and-stick approach with caution. Ealing Council’s cabinet member for environment and transport. Bassam Mahfouz, told MRW:

“Fining people might work if it is a really bad recycling area where they would fear the possibility of getting a penalty. But it is a very short-term solution, and those people would not be recycling for the right reason.”

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