Circular Economy Task Force says inconsistent recycling is losing £1.7 billion per year

The disjointed way recycling is organised across the UK means we are losing an estimated £1.7 billion in material and reuse value each year, according to a report from the Circular Economy Task Force.

According to the report, Waste Opportunities: Smarter Systems for Resource Recovery, outdated policy means that a plastic bottle discarded at home is treated differently across the UK’s 376 waste collection authorities. If the bottle is discarded at work, it goes through another, separate system.

This contrasts with the system used in Denmark, where a bottle is treated in the same way no matter where it is discarded.

The report, which was produced by the Green Alliance charity that convenes the Circular Economy Task Force, says that the UK’s recycling market isn’t working.

Businesses want to use recycled materials, and reprocessors want to build infrastructure to provide recycled material.

But it warns that the UK’s current system makes this difficult with just 30 per cent of plastic packaging collected for recycling, with two thirds being exported.

For waste electronics, just 2 per cent is reused, even though 23 per cent is available for reuse.

By reorgansing the system, a further £500 million could be captured from waste electronics by increasing reuse and quality recycling, support up to 40 new UK plastics recyclers, and unlock £1.2 billion in private sector investment in anaerobic digestion.

Green Alliance head of resource stewardship Dustin Benton said: “Local authorities spend more on waste management than housing or planning. Valuable raw materials are lost while businesses are frustrated by a lack of usable recycled materials. The system both stymies demand for recycled materials and prevents businesses investing.

“The problem is structural. The Government could easily turn this around by reforming the system to help businesses get the UK moving towards a circular economy.”

Boots UK sustainable development manager – products Andrew Jenkins added: “Greater consistency of collection and recycling systems would help ensure the reliability of material supply thereby facilitating the design and specification of more products incorporating recycled materials.”

While Veolia executive director Robert Hunt added: “One of the principal pillars of Veolia’s strategy is to manufacture products or extract green calories from what would otherwise be waste materials.

“This enables sustainability and avoids unnecessary use of raw materials and contributes to the circular economy. To achieve this successfully it is important that the collection of waste properly reflects the needs of this new resource economy and that the products produced can compete effectively in the market place.”

The Circular Economy Task Force was set up via the UK’s Resource Security Action Plan sponsored by Defra and BIS and is comprised of businesses including BASF, Boots, Interface, Kyocera Document Solutions, Unilever, Veolia, Viridor and WRAP.