Defra’s Head In the Sand Approach is Not Working : Time to Tackle Organics if 50% Recycling Rate to be Achieved

David Newman ISWA recycling commodity prices

ISWA President, David Newman laments the UK’s lack of drive to increase recycling rates, collect organics and tackle litter…

On 22 March this year the UK government’s Department of Environment (known as DEFRA – the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) reported a fall in household waste recycling rates for the first time in memory from 45% to 44.3% for the year ending June 2015.

Dry recycling increased slightly, by 0.2%, whilst organics recycling fell significantly, by 5.7% . While overall household waste produced fell by 0.6%, waste sent to disposal increased by 0.6% to 12.3 million tons out of a total produced by households of 22.1 million tons- a shocking 55.7%.

The UK is going in the wrong direction and these figures are a condemnation of the last Government's inertia towards the sector in the years 2010-2015. Less organics are being captured, more waste is going to landfill and incineration, and dry recycling is static.

The Government elected in 2015 is showing a similar "hands off" approach to the environment in general and waste in specific. Yet the 2020 target laid down by the EU of 50% recycling is now literally around the corner.

To achieve those extra 6% policies and investments need to be made now, and there are few signs of either. The Government seems to ignore the evidence that the UK householder spends less than their northern European partners and less investment means less infrastructure and lower collection rates.

As Jeremy Paxman, the BBC journalist, recently said " Britain is the dirtiest country in Europe" and evidence of littering is to be seen everywhere, sadly. Perhaps he has not travelled to the south of Europe and is exaggerating, nevertheless Britain has become more littered than in recent memory.

All this comes down to the one basic failure to understand or recognise that protecting the environment costs money. And to drive waste recycling rates (towards that Circular Economy model every politician declares is his/hers goal) we need more investment. Above all, we need more collection of organics - the UK underperforms dramatically on organics interception when compared to many advanced European economies.

A law sent to Parliament to make organics collection obligatory in England, as it is in Wales, Scotland and soon in Northern Ireland, has been rejected by the Government as an unnecessary burden. One despairs.

David Newman is President of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).

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