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Has the meaning of recycling been forgotten?

So, while the Government continues to talk about a circular economy – an industrial strategy that has Reduce, Reuse and Recycle at its heart, a leading environmental consultancy Eunomia is questioning Government commitment.

Whether the commitment will survive the Brexit negotiation implications or simply be swallowed up by an increase capacity in technologies such as Energy-from-Waste remains to be seen. But for those with a determination to stop the UK returning to the position of the ‘dirty man of Europe’ there are challenging times ahead. The UK will soon be tested to see if its dramatic increases in recycling rates and waste reduction were driven by UK attitudes or by EU laws. Will the Government’s green policies turn another colour without Brussels watching over its shoulder?

Eunomia’s report states current trends favouring Energy-from-Waste could see Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s ambition to achieve a ‘green Brexit’ go up in smoke.

A recent article on the BBC fears that a boom in incinerator-building could make it impossible for the UK to meet future targets for recycling. Eunomia’s report comments that companies who are constructing new incinerators will need to feed them with waste, which immediately reduces Britain’s ambition to recycle more. If the Government is serious about resource efficiency, and moving the UK towards a low-carbon circular economy, then we simply need to recycle more! Burning waste instead of landfilling it, even if used for ‘renewable’ heat and power, is not going to help us to achieve the ambitious goal of a circular economy.

Although it used to appear that burning waste rather than coal was environmentally beneficial, now that the UK’s energy supply is cleaner, incineration would lead us to regain the tag of ‘the dirty man of Europe’, completely disregarding the previous progress in boosting recycling rates form 11% to 44%.

At Casepak, we believe that the Government should support the development of the UK’s existing recycling technologies, rather than investing in incineration capacity – otherwise there will be no chance of us reaching a circular economy.

With a fall in residual and commercial waste from an estimated 30 million tonnes per annum to 26 million tonnes, in the long-run it may mean that we would have to import waste from EU and elsewhere to keep the incinerators burning, creating a perverse effect. They would only be chasing a shrinking mountain of waste which surely highlights how the costs will not be justified by the benefits of investing in incineration capacity. Burning waste is only going to hinder our efforts to achieve a circular economy.

Let’s celebrate the great achievements the UK’s recycling industry has achieved so far, and work hard to continue these efforts!