Are Recycling Targets Compromising Quality?

posted 17.01.2011
A recent report from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has warned that pressure on local authorities to keep waste out of landfill is at risk of backfiring. Ever increasing target rates for recycling is resulting in an emphasis of quantity not quality, producing a poor quality stream of recyclable material. Accordingly much of this is low-grade recycled material which holds no real economic value so ironically becomes destined for landfill anyway.

The report suggests that the waste industry needs to amend its culture to focus not only on increasing the amount of material recycled, but also on the quality and value of the material being recycled. This would then allow recycled materials to be fed back into the economy as saleable goods.

The report calls for the progression to a “circular economy” where recovered and recycled material is of a sufficient quality to be routinely reused in the economy. The ICE has suggested that the cost of making the required changes could be anywhere between £10-20bn by 2020.

Recipro is of course fully aware of the need to change attitudes towards waste management, one method of ensuring that materials are not down-cycled is by ensuring that good quality new and used material are used for their intended purpose. For example construction waste, which equates to approximately 120 million tonnes includes approximately 14% of this is brand new material which has become surplus (WRAP). Furthermore, it is estimated that the same quantity again is reusable second hand material.

By recovering this material before recycling, significant savings can be made with reduced demands on energy and resources required in the recycling process, whilst also ensuring that the product has an economic value and not downgraded. Reclaiming and reusing materials is the most effective way to recover value from waste materials.

Defra has welcomed the report by the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) and will be utilising the report alongside their current review of waste policies in England. A spokesperson from Defra stated “It contains some interesting ideas and policy suggestions which we will look at in detail as part of our review”.

It will be interesting to see whether this review places greater importance on the areas of reuse and ensure that legislation and incentives ensure that the ideal waste hierarchy is achievable and economically viable.

Source: BBC News (13/01/2011) (

Category: environment, in the news, industry, legislation, Mike Close, recycling