Waste packaging and food leftovers from this Christmas alone will have cost councils £72 million1, according to new research from UK think tank Green Alliance. In England, local authorities spend roughly £300 million every year dealing with waste packaging and, after rising steadily since 2001, England’s recycling rates went down for the first time in 2015. But, despite councils having no control over how products are designed or packaged, or how residents use recycling services, they still get the blame when issues such as glittery, unrecyclable Christmas cards return to wreak havoc.
Local authorities currently have an unfair share of the responsibility for reducing waste and increasing recycling when the onus should be on producers, which can work to eliminate waste in the design process and institute tack-back schemes for post-consumer packaging.
New research from Green Alliance on behalf of its Circular Economy Task Force - a comprising Kyocera Document Solutions, the Resource Association, Sinvestec, Unilever, Viridor, WRAP and Walgreens Boots Alliance - shows that a fairer recycling system would cut costs to local authorities of dealing with waste and increase recycling rates.
“Recycling in England has become dysfunctional. Businesses blame local authorities, local authorities blame businesses, and householders blame both. The only certain thing is that hard-pressed councils are having to pick up an unfair share of the bill, despite their obvious financial constraints. But they have no power to bring down the costs. Falling recycling rates show that a new approach is needed,” said Green Alliance’s Jonny Hazell, author of the report. “A more consistent system would cost less and be fairer for all. It would also guarantee that British manufacturers get more of the high-quality recycled materials they need and reduce their dependence on imports.”
Recycling reset: how England can stop subsidising waste, recommends that:
- Councils should standardize recycling collections, to improve the quality of the material collected. This will help to stop the confusion over what can and can’t be recycled and cut costs.
- Councils that standardize their service should have some of their costs covered by the companies that create the packaging in the first place, via redirected producer responsibility payments.
- Responsible companies that use recycled materials, design their packaging for recyclability and inform their customers on recycling should pay lower responsibility fees, while those that don’t should pay more.
- To be fairer to people who recycle properly, councils should be able to charge households if they don’t recycle everything they can. These recommendations are based on proven policies from abroad. For example, Belgium’s system of dealing with waste packaging costs 25 percent less per person than in England. And, in California, a focus on improving plastic recycling since 2007 has led to a fivefold increase in the amount of plastic recycled in the state.
Organizations and governments around the world are understanding what the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has estimated as a $80-120 billion business case for implementing circular schemes for plastics, particularly packaging: In August, the European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN) and 35 other associations representing a variety of industries presented the European Union with a set of joint recommendations for its circular economy legislative proposals. The 36 associations called for a long-term, ambitious EU policy framework that enables and facilitates sustainable resource use from a full life-cycle perspective, incentivizes economies of scale and takes into account value chains at all levels. In October, trade group PlasticsEurope created a Plastics Packaging Circular Economy Group to maximize resource efficiency across the plastics value chain. And in December, Tetra Pak unveiled its closed-loop Tetra Brik® Aseptic 1000 Edge Bio-based LightCap™ 30 carton; NGO Pack2Go Europe launched a circular initiative that aims to increase the amount of on-the-go food/beverage and convenience packaging that can be recycled; and Coca-Cola European Partners, Avery Dennison, Viridor and PET UK announced that they have saved roughly 180-200 tons of CO2 and $30,000 by recycling PET liner waste into Smartwater bottles.
**1 **The £72 million cost comprises a £63 million cost for dealing with waste packaging and a £9 million cost for dealing with Christmas food waste that is not recycled. The figure for packaging is based on the share of the ca. £300 million annual cost to local authorities for waste packaging attributable to Christmas based on the Christmas period’s share of annual retail sales (21 percent). The figure for food waste is based on the difference in average gate fees for treating food waste using anaerobic digestion (£40/tonne) as opposed to the weighted average of landfill (£102/tonne) or energy from waste (£86/tonne) for the 170,000 tonnes of Christmas food waste that aren’t recycled (assuming 193,200 tonnes of Christmas food waste in England and a 12 percent recycling rate).