Recycling: Are We Running before We Can Walk? Waste and Recycling: AsWales' Recycling Rate Increases to 45% a Report Asks Whether What We Recycle Is Really Good Enough for Industry to Use Again
The rush to increase recycling rates runs the risk of reducing the quality of recycled material so that much of it ends up back in landfill, according to a recent report.
Pressure on local authorities to recycle more to avoid exceeding their landfill allowance is creating the risk of a 'quantity not quality' approach to processing waste, which could see recycled material such as paper, glass and plastics in no state to be reused commercially, says the Institute of Civil Engineers' in its State of the Nation: Waste and Resource Management 2011 report.
The ICE calls for an evolution of the waste sector, costing at least pounds 10bn, by 2020.
This, the institute says, would see policy makers and the waste industry make "a rapid shift towards a culture where the focus is not only on increasing the quantity of recycled materials but on retaining the quality and value of reusable materials as they move through the waste cycle, so they can be returned to and benefit the economy as first rate, saleable goods."
The institute says the progression to a 'circular economy' - where recovered and recycled materials are of a high enough quality to be routinely bought back into use, reducing the demand for goods made from raw materials - could see the waste industry become part of a drive towards greater resource efficiency that could contribute 10% to CO2 reduction.
Most recycled materials have a lower CO2 footprint than raw materials which are extracted from the ground or grown and then go through a more carbon intensive process to become finished goods.
Fifty per cent less energy is required to recycle paper compared with making it from raw materials, for example.
ICE waste and resource management expert Jonathan Davies, of SKM Enviros, said: "The UK's waste management policy has been too narrowly focused on diverting waste from landfill and local authorities are stepping up to the challenge to avoid fines by increasing the quantity of recycled material.
"But we still need more action also to drive up the quality of the material being produced.
"Without this, the UK could generate increasingly poor quality recycled materials for which there are few buyers, and ironically their most likely final destination is landfill."
Assembly Government Environment Minister Jane Davidson welcomed the ICE report. …