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Opposition from Paper Body to Commingling Call

Published on 26 June 2014

A recent BBC discussion suggested that household waste should be collected through commingled and source-separated methods in an attempt to combat ‘green fatigue', prompting the Confederation of Paper Industries to publicly voice their opposition to such measures.

The Debate

On the 27th May, the Radio 4 PM programme aired a discussion on the topic of a recent report by SITA UK. The report suggested that the UK as a whole was on a course which seemed set to fall short of their EU recycling targets. The entity's report attributed this shortfall to a phenomenon known as ‘green fatigue', which, it is conjectured, is causing recycling rates to slow. According to one of the country's biggest bin collectors, the phenomenon is the result of councils imposing numerous confusing bins on households.

However, ‘green fatigue' is unlikely to be solely responsible for this fall, and others have pointed to the declining usage of paper and glass, along with local authority budget cuts, as other likely contributors.

If the prophesied drop occurs, this will be the first time in 10 years that recycling rates will have fallen. These estimates would see Britain fail to meet tough EU targets of recycling half of all household waste by 2020. The outcome would see the country left liable for millions of pounds in fines.

A New Trend

Over the past decade, households have significantly increased the proportion of rubbish they recycle. In 2000-01, this figure stood at just 11 per cent. By 2011-12, this had risen to 43 per cent.

However, 2012-13 saw the rate of increase slow dramatically, rising by only 0.2 per cent. This led SITA UK, an entity employed by local councils to collect kerbside waste, to analyse the phenomenon.

Their findings suggested that the dramatic decrease was no anomaly. In fact, it was only the beginning of a worrying trend, which seems likely to see British recycling rates fall by at least 2 per cent for the year 2013-14.

Chief executive David Palmer-Jones attributed this tailing-off to a combination of reasons, such as councils confusing residents with numerous bin collections, local authority budget cuts and declining paper and glass usage.

Looking to the Future

A number of measures have been proposed to combat England's flat-lining collection rates. Palmer-Jones believes that councils should see this as a prompt to do more to simplify recycling, such as making greater use of commingling, which could lead to up to 500,000 extra tonnes of recycling being collected. “We've made great strides in recycling over the last decade, but we are sleepwalking into missing the 50% target - which isn't a good place to be.”

However, Stuart Pohler, the CPI's recovered paper sector manager, disagrees. “Whilst some Materials Recovery Facilities can produce high quality materials, many cannot,” he warned. “Our default position is that paper should be collected separately from other recyclable materials, particularly glass, as the means most likely to achieve the purpose of the Waste Framework Directive.”

In his opinion, councils must be careful that commingled material is processed only through facilities that have “suitable sorting capabilities, transparent, auditable quality management systems in place and meet the necessary standards of reprocessors.”

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