The Bad News: The figures published by the Government’s Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) for 2014 were very disappointing. They show falling rates of recycling in Britain. Scotland and Wales have increased their recycling rates, so England’s fall is large enough to negate the overall figures.
Statistics gathered by the recycling consortia show that the U.K. lies above only Latvia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Crete and Greece in European recycling rates. Germany and other European countries recycle over 90% of their waste, so clearly it is possible, where there is a will to do so. In these countries there have been large investments in recycling plants reprocessing a wide range of materials. The large part of the benefit of our recyclable materials accrues to industries in Europe, South America, India and the Far East, which are primary destinations for the materials.
The UK’s modification of the EU Waste directive to allow waste companies to collect and compact together different waste streams results in most of the materials becoming too soiled and contaminated to be recycled, qualifying them for disposal.
Despite huge local opposition to them, builds or planning permissions in place for incineration plants which are estimated to need feedstock amounting to over 1.5 times the total amount of all waste produced in the U.K , so reusable goods, compostable waste, recyclable materials along with those which do not fall into any of those categories. Incineration does decrease the volume by up to 75% but the residual ash, with its increased toxicity is normally landfilled.
On the face of it, this demand is a threat to recycling service companies and reprocessors. However, in the last 10 years there has been a huge surge towards recycling, at all levels of our society, and the efforts of individuals and businesses small and large, are increasingly working towards reuse and reprocessing of "waste” materials and products. There has also been a growing awareness of the depletion of earth’s resources, and the importance of safeguarding our woods and forests, rivers, seas and wild places - and the creatures living there. People Power obviously works!
In the longer term, the increasing costs of incineration and landfill will pass to council tax payers and the business sector. Inevitably some waste is produced which can not be reused or reprocessed, but with a will to do so, this can be very much minimised, along with the cost of using ever more oil, water, proteins, power, and chemicals to replace reusable materials which have been destroyed.
The Good News is that in Devon, we now have over 50 community composting and recycling groups, in which residents give up their time for no reward, to promote and facilitate recycling in their area - particularly for the large volumes and types of materials which are not recycled by their local council or civic amenity sites. Real recycling stars, and at least help to make Devon a "green” county, not only in our surroundings, but also in caring for them and the wider world’s future.