Following the recent RWM exhibition and conference, ISWA President, David Newman argues that the UK must look at best practice for organic waste management if it is to significantly increase recycling rates.
Birmingham UK; I just finished two days in the CIWM/ESA trade exhibition and conference. I always enjoy the meetings in the UK because the level of the debate is interesting and people are passionate on their subjects.
The exhibition (RWM) this year was interesting too because it illustrated to me that the industry in the UK is transforming itself rapidly into a more commercial mode. Further, the accent on recycling technologies gives a clear idea of the trend moving forward.
But back to the debates. If I have one criticism of the UK debates it is that they do not look abroad to see what is happening- the discussions are a little self-referential. For example, the whole question of compostable plastics in the packaging debate was reduced to “they don’t resist moisture” ignoring that a leading Italian mineral water brand actually now bottles in compostable PLA!
And when discussing waste to energy, the debate seemed to ignore the value of district heating in northern European facilities, a value of extreme importance when discussing the environmental, social and economic sustainability of exporting RDF/SDF to these plants versus building new ones in the UK.
Also, the dismissal by some speakers of the very idea of a landfill ban on organics, which has worked excellently in driving composting and AD elsewhere in Europe, shows the key limitations to non-market driven solutions to UK waste management thinking. Yet everyone was concerned recycling rates in the UK have remained flat for the last three years at around 43%- without organic waste, it will be hard to improve this.
Inevitably through the EU many of these questions will be resolved in ways the UK industry might not like and may not be prepared for. A little more looking at examples of what has worked elsewhere could help the UK move forward more quickly to finishing its waste management system.
The UK is doing very well, but more could be done with a little copying of best practices used in other European nations.
David Newman is President of the International Solid Waste Association
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