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The UKand its Waste Recovery System.

 

The Waste Arisings in the UK

 

During 2012, UK Households produced 26.5 million tonnes of waste, which can be broadly broken down into:

 

  • 22 million tonnes in England
  • 2.4 million tonnes in Scotland
  • 0.8 million tonne in N Ireland
  • 1.3 Million tonnes in Wales

 

This waste is broadly broken down into wastes sent to Landfill, Recycling, Composting and Incineration with EfW (Energy from waste). Of the 26.5 million tonnes produced, approximately 12 million tonnes was recycled and a further 9 million used for the production of energy through incineration. Year on year, the volumes of waste being sent to landfill is dropping, representing a gradual change in the industry into one of recycling, reclamation and recovery.

Recycling Rates for Waste

 

Recycling for the UK has, to an extent stalled at approximately 44% of overall waste generated by UK households. It’s not clear why this has happened but many ideas are being considered as potential ways to improve these rates. Gone are the days of putting chips on bins, sending letters to households and fining people who don’t use the right bin. However, the concept of multiple bins and fortnightly collections are here to stay.

 

The recycling rates for each local authority differs and is categorised in bands, each 10% higher than the previous. The aim is that by 2020, the UK as a whole will achieve a recycling rate of 50% for all domestic waste. However, as the map on the right shows, the UK is some way off this target, with many Authorities failing to reach 40% recycling rates (show in yellow).

 

More interesting, is the fact that recycling volumes (by weight) in England itself have not changed in the last 4 years, even though the percentage rates have increased. Dry recycling (the separately collected recycling bin waste) has stuck at 5.6 million tonnes, while the residual waste (the general waste) has decreased.

The makeup of Household Dry Mixed Recycling:

 

Evidence produced by WRAP (UK) documents the composition of dry recycling waste as consisting of the following:

  • Metals: 4%
  • Textiles: 2%
  • Paper & Card: 42%
  • Plastic: 7%
  • WEEE and other Scrap Metals: 8%
  • Other Materials: 18%
  • Glass: 19%

The case for a Different Approach

 

One solution to increasing recycling rates is to recover other wastes that are usually put in the residual waste bin (i.e. sent to landfill). Of these wastes, a large proportion is food waste, which constitutes 15 million tonnes each year. Of this, 7 million tonnes alone is generated by households and ends up in the general waste bin, being sent to landfill. Separate recovery of this waste stream could potentially boost UK energy production and increase recycling rates by as much as 26 percent, putting the UK well above the 2020 target of 50% and making the nation one of the Greenest in Europe. However, as late as 2012, some 4 million tonnes of household food waste was collected as residual waste, rather than being recycled.

 

Notably, in 2012, it was reported by WRAP that of the food purchased in the UK, one third of it was wasted. This equates to a cost per household of £480.00 per annum.

 

This is most starkly represented when comparing the various nations that make up the United Kingdom. Wales, which has the highest recycling rate of all the nations at 54%, provides a separate collection service for food waste in approximately 90% of it’s local Authorities. By comparison, England operates separate food waste collections in only 30% of it’s local authorities. England’s overall recycling rates are considerably lower than those in Wales.

Value Supply Chain

 

The UK’s recycling sector adds value to the economy, through jobs and employment and through the Global export of scrap. Net exports from the UK in 2013 alone generated the UK £4000 million in net revenue. However, the export of residual wastes in the form of refuse derived fuel cost the economy considerably, with the waste volumes climbing steeply from 8500 tonnes in 2010 to 1.8 million tonnes in 2013. A key issue with the export of RDF is the lack of infrastructure in the UK to recover energy from the waste. Once in place, energy production from RDF would assist the UK in becoming self sufficient in it’s energy production.

 

Of the EfW solutions currently employed in the UK, the most widely used is Anaerobic Digestion. However, a 2012 study shows that the infrastructure is aimed primarily at the recovery of rules from Farm wastes, with many consuming crops grown primarily for the purpose of producing fuels. Of the capacity available in the UK, AD treats 1.3 million tonnes of farm wastes, whereas .25 million tonnes capacity is available for industrial waste.

The Argument for Recycling More:

 

The argument for recycling more falls into three categories:

  • The recovery of wastes reduces Co2 emissions in the 2011/2012 period, the recovery of wastes saved an estimated 6.9 million tonnes of Co2 from being released. Wastes sent to landfill generated an estimated 2.7 million tonnes of Co2
  • In recycling our wastes, separating out various materials, jobs are generated and value is added to the economy
  • As we aim for more efficient energy production methods, the use of residual waste as a fuel reduces the “carbon cycle” by replacing fossil fuels with more sustainable fuels.

 

Next: Ethical recycling of waste electronics