Annual targets for recycling are constantly changing but it appears that household recycling has barely changed in recent years. Last year there was little change from 2012 and experts say that it’s due in part to the fact that consumers are using less paper. Which in turn means that there is in fact less to recycle. The switch to online reading and the purchase of products that use less packaging mean it looks increasingly unlikely that we’ll meet the targets set in Brussels. The current target is for UK recycling rates to hit 50% by 2020 and failing to meet them could mean we face fines of more than £500,000 per day, if estimates are right.
Recycling industry bosses have cited the reduction in the weight of paper and packaging being used as one of the reasons for the current flat-lining in recycling rates. Consumers are opting for products that use less packaging so there is less packaging to be recycled. Switches are being made from heavy glass to plastic which again impacts on recycling figures. While we understand the need for targets to be made more has to be done to take into account peoples changing habits. There seems little point in imposing heavy fines. We’d be being penalised for our own success.
If we want to hit the targets further changes will be needed such as smaller wheelie bins to physically limit the number of black bag waste and discounts for local councils that are able to achieve higher recycling rates. But it has to be said that the reduced amount of packaging and use of less paper cannot be the sole reason for not making any improvements in recycling rates. Across the Severn Bridge in Wales consumption is no different but Welsh authorities have made hitting the targets mandatory not an option. Food collection is mandatory which helps to drive up the rates.
Measurement of recycling rates is actually done by weight. So if a household cuts their use of paper and switches to plastic rather than heavier glass the recycling rate will fall. Because it doesn’t take into account the fact that they are actually throwing less waste away in black plastic bags but more that the weight of the materials they’re recycling is in fact less.
We hope that UK consumers will not be deterred by the powers that be over in Brussels but will continue to reduce first, then reuse and finally recycle for the future of the planet. Not because someone is telling them to do so.