Rethinking recycling

The National Audit Office has today published its report on “The Packaging Recycling Obligations

The report proves that our recycling system is broken and we really need to focus on producing and consuming less. We have relied on exporting our waste to foreign countries and using them as our dumping grounds. We are exporting waste that is wrongly being recorded as being for recycling, when it contains so much non-recycling material that it will have to go to landfill or incineration.

The bottom line is that we are on the verge of officially burning more waste than we recycle and this Audit Office report raises the fear that some of the material that everyone at home does their best to sort and recycle is being buried or burnt abroad.

We must use less. Use less packaging. Use fewer plastic straws, coffee cups and all that stuff where there are obvious and sensible options. We did it with plastic bags, why aren’t we doing it with other things? A charge for coffee cups would get people bringing their own to coffee shops.

Also, the report finds that packaging producers are freeloading on our waste collection infrastructure. Local authorities spend about £700million per year on collecting waste – and packaging producers don’t have to pay anything towards that cost. Those companies make things that they know someone else will have to deal with. In Germany they get the companies to take responsibility for the packaging they produce and as a result those companies either produce less, or they make things that are easy to recycle and deal with.

We can call for:

  • ​​Legislation to set minimum amounts of recycled materials to be contained in products, to boost demand for recycled materials
  • Massive investment in the UK recycling infrastructure, so that we can keep hold of valuable resources and boost our economy while reducing our environmental impact
  • Obligations for retailers to accept returns of packaging and arrange for it to be recycled (i.e. customers can bring back waste)
  • The Government to conduct proper investigations into fraud, error, and contamination in the recycling system.