Quality not quantity urged for recycled goods

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Local authorities should focus more on the quality of recycled material such as paper, glass and plastics, rather than simply the quantity, says the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE).

Pressure to stay within landfill quotas risks a situation where recycled material is of such poor quality that it may, ironically, end up back in landfill sites.

In its State of the Nation: Waste and Resource Management 2011 report, ICE calls for a shift towards a ‘circular economy’ where recycled materials are high enough quality to be routinely bought back into use, reducing the demand for goods made from raw materials and thereby achieving a 10 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions.

However, this will require extra investment to the tune of £10-20bn by 2020, most of which will have to come from the private sector.

ICE waste and resource management expert Jonathan Davies, of SKM Enviros, said: ‘New central government funding for the waste PFI (Private Finance Initiative) programme has now drawn to a close, so the onus is on the government to create an environment that will encourage private investment and develop new thinking on how waste facilities could be funded.

‘This will be critical in ensuring the progression to a ‘resource rich’ culture in the UK and a waste and resources sector that is environmentally and economically sound’.

Some councils have adopted a system where domestic waste is mixed sent to then sent to recycling centres where items are separated by air-blowing machines.

Although cheaper than separating by hand, this can leave fragments of waste in the wrong recycling streams – for example shards of glass can end up in recycled paper.

‘It is time for the UK waste industry to evolve from a disposal sector into a ‘supply’ sector that unlocks the real economic value of materials in a low carbon fashion. This means collecting, sorting and reprocessing reusable materials based on their physical characteristics and the economic potential for their reuse.’

Such an approach may also benefit council tax payers, as producing and selling higher-value recycled materials will generate more income for local authorities and therefore keep council tax bills down.