Under the revised Waste Framework Directive those collecting waste paper, metal, plastic or glass must ensure that it is separately collected from 1 January 2015.
It must however, be technically, environmentally and economically practicable and appropriate to meet the needs of the relevant recycling sectors. DEFRA's recent letter to local authorities over the separate collections of recyclate has given clear guidance on how the regulations should be implemented.
It is a sensible stance from DEFRA and we fully support the content of the letter and the interpretation of the Waste Framework Directive. That said, it's important not to scrutinise those local authorities or businesses that genuinely are unable to implement separate collections without severely impacting their core operations or bottom line.
Where are we?
It's a fact that mixed recycling collections do lead to increased 'recycling rates', however these rates are more clearly defined as 'collection rates' and do not accurately translate to the true percentage of material recovered and recycled into new products after collection. We feel this is where the confusion lies.
Recycling is about re-using and re-purposing material over and over again. For example, quality raw materials are key to DS Smith's finished product. We only use recovered fibre so poor quality co-mingled material causes difficulties in our packaging manufacturing process. Brand owners who purchase recycled packaging demand high quality material.
When we look further down the supply chain, consumers are putting pressure on retailers and brand owners to supply them with goods that are sustainably made. As an industry, whether we export or use material domestically we must all work to the same whole supply chain quality standards that ultimately put the consumer demand for good quality end product at the heart of all industry shaping decisions.
To achieve our Group aim of high quality packaging products for consumer goods, we need the highest quality fibre input, and this cannot be achieved by poor co-mingling of recyclates – particularly when co-mingling paper with glass. Driving Recycling Forwards This is mirrored as an issue across other material streams such as plastics, and although we can utilise well established export routes for lower material grades, tightening of export controls means that as a nation we cannot rely on sending our lesser quality resources to other countries. This has been demonstrated by China's Green Fence policy over the last few months.
Some industry figures have suggested that increased co-mingled collections would improve glass recovery rates and many businesses argue that such collections enable them to achieve higher recycling rates. However these are short term views and while co-mingled collections might help meet these respective aims, the key questions that remain are, would all of the waste collected actually be reprocessed and if so, to what quality standard?
Using co-mingled collections as a way to drive targets for glass would cause a knock on effect and a shortfall of quality recyclate across other material streams, particularly paper, which would easily become damaged and contaminated. Resource efficiency is not just about handling waste, there needs to be a focus on getting the best value from the resource waste offers and poorly managed co-mingled collections are not the right solution to achieve this. ￼￼
So what needs to happen?
That's some of the theory, what do we need to do to realise the aims of the regulations? We've developed five practical solutions to ensure compliance with the regulations.
Ultimately, it's attitude...
Consumers and individuals within businesses need to adopt the mind-set that quality is to come before convenience. We must adopt a holistic, positive approach to how we see material in our households and working environments; otherwise resources will slip down the waste hierarchy – ending up in energy from waste or at worst case, landfill. Generally, attitude changes span across generations and this will be a great challenge for the UK to overcome in just over a year.
Follow the waste hierarchy...
The hierarchy delivers positive outcomes by leading local authorities and businesses to firstly identify ways to reduce waste arising. This offers the most wide reaching benefits in terms of resource efficiency, sustainability and cost savings. Then, the focus must be on what opportunities exist for reuse internally or elsewhere. Remaining materials should then be recycled or recovered, with the goal to keep as much waste away from landfill as possible. The Waste Hierarchy must be embraced as an opportunity to be more sustainable, rather than more red tape to overcome or a tick box exercise.
Follow the waste hierarchy...
There is a definite place in the industry for quality mixed recycling collections where there is proof that it is not technically, economically or environmentally possible to implement source segregation. However the industry must go further than a tick box to gather this proof and ensure that local authorities and businesses have explored all other avenues before choosing co-mingled processes.
Focus on quality...
The need to achieve quality material has become even more apparent since China placed restrictions on low quality imports and threatened to enforce regulations. Exporting lower quality recyclable material is a misuse of a resource that in many instances the UK could use if it was of high enough quality.
It is vital that industry keeps the end customer in mind and focuses on quality when looking to increase the quantity of UK feedstock. In doing so, larger amounts of high quality recyclate will be generated that are needed for the UK's own and global market requirements. This process will secure a robust and commercially beneficial industry in the long term.
There is still a place for quality mixed recycling collections for more robust recyclates, where contamination and damage won't impact on its suitability for reprocessing. However segregated collections will always be crucial to securing the type of feedstock that will reap the greatest value both economically and environmentally. It's all about innovation... The focus for investment in the industry needs to be on innovation and achieving best practice.
We need to ensure it is balanced across the sector and every waste stream so that we can match the growing portfolio of recycling processes with regular, segregated collections. Communicating the true value of clean resource streams as well as encouraging consumers and businesses alike to revaluate their waste management and look at how they can reduce waste in the first place, are key to optimising resources.
This White Paper discusses our view on what would need to happen in order for the UK to achieve separate collections of recyclables by 2015.