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Britain and the 2020 Waste Disposal Target – Hit or Miss?

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With only a few months left of 2019, the British are wondering what is happening with the UK’s waste disposal targets set for 2020. Is the Kingdom still on track to meet those or is the entire domestic waste management strategy doomed to fail? According to a series of bodies and publications in Britain, the country is unlikely to reach the ambitious goals set for the beginning of 2020. The main issue seems to stand in poor infrastructure. According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, only 45,7% of household waste was recycled in 2017. The same body claims that reaching the 50% recycling goals set by 2020 will be nearly impossible.

UK recycling rates, by region

Although the recycling rates in the UK have grown tremendously since 2001, when the country has started the process, they are still far from coming close to the goals set for 2020. By region, Wales is the one with the highest household waste recycling rates, reaching 57.6% in both 2016 and 2017. The UK, as a whole, has only reached 45.2%, respectively 45.7% recycling rates on household waste in 2016, respectively 2017. Scotland is the region with the lowest recycling rates in the Kingdom, managing with success only a little over 42% of household waste in 2016, and a little over 43% in 2017.

According to specialists, the recycling rates for each region for household waste increased by 1.1% between 2015 and 2017. By keeping up the same recycling rate growth, the Kingdom might need up to four years to reach the set target. Although the figures show a slight increase in recycling rates, some areas perform poorer today than a few years back.

For instance, the packaging recycling rates have slightly dropped from 2012. In 2012, the UK was recycling glass at a 67.8% rate. Today, glass packaging waste recycling rates have dropped to 67.6%. Paper and cardboard recycling rates have also dropped from 86.5% to 79% in 2017. Wood packaging recycling rates are now estimated at 31.4%, as opposed to 51.3% in 2012.

The only areas where the UK has increased the recycling rates for packaging were metal and plastic. The metal recovery or recycling rates have increased from 52.1% in 2012 to 71.3% in 2017. Also, the plastic recycling rates were estimated at 25.2% in 2012, whereas in 2017, the recycling rates for plastic packaging reached 46.2%.

In spite of the sensitive drop in packaging recovery and recycling rates, the Kingdom is comfortably exceeding the goal to recover at least 60% of total packaging waste. The increase in plastic packaging recycling may be attributed to a growing awareness of the environmental impact plastic has.

So, why is the UK failing to recycle its waste?

The importance of recycling is widely recognized in the UK. However, in spite of the fact households across the UK are recycling more, local authorities fail to meet their recycling goals. This happens especially in England, being the region with some of the lowest recycling rates.

The main reason why recycling rates have dropped in the UK is that the country is heavily reliant on waste incineration to produce energy. Although in theory, this is a great alternative to dumping waste on landfills, it isn’t. Of course, the waste volumes are reduced by more than 95%, when waste is incinerated. The resulted electricity and heating can be used all over the Kingdom but is this a good alternative.

The EU catalogues the energy resulted from the incineration of biogenic waste as non-fossil renewable energy. But this is too good to be true, as you would expect, the option being just as controversial as other less environmentally-friendly solution.  In countries like the US, incineration is a last resort solution when it comes to waste management.

The incineration process releases into the air CO2, furan, dioxin and toxic ashes. In high quantities, these can lead to severe health and environmental concerns. Although in some cases, advanced incineration technologies can be used to lower the toxic emissions, there are more suitable options which can be used to lower the environmental impact of burning waste.

What can be done to boost recycling rates and reach the 50% recycling goals set for 2020?

It is surprising how many different materials can be recovered or recycled, generally. All industries that generate high volumes of waste can try to implement better waste management practices and protocols. The UK should find new, less harmful ways to reduce waste volume without incinerating it.

Compressing balers and compactors seem to be perfect for businesses in all industries. They help establishments to implement better, more effective recycling and waste management protocols and practices, but they also reduce the volumes of waste that reach landfills every day.

But the solution is not in businesses’ and citizens’ hands, entirely. Local administrative bodies should seek new solutions, and look forward to implementing better recycling and recovery strategies.

British citizens have little knowledge about recycling and find it rather a daunting process. They seem to overlook how important yet effective having separate bins for different waste is. Currently, recycling bins in the UK are generally marked with “Mixed Recycling” or “General Waste”. This is not offering enough information on what can be thrown in said bins unless you go through a thorough research process.

Unlike Britain, other EU member states have designated bins for different waste, which are all clearly labelled. Regardless of the recycling and waste management knowledge one has, these bins are self-explanatory and straightforward.

Better recycling and waste management standards and processes are also due to help in boosting the waste recycling rates and reaching the targets set for 2020. However, the deadline would need to be extended, considering the short time remaining until the beginning of 2020.

Standardizing council requirements in terms of local recycling should be the first step the Kingdom should take. Today, recycling in Britain is not equal in all regions specifically because local councils are not required to offer the same recycling possibilities.

 
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