2016: The good, the bad and the ugly

Written by: David Burrows | Published:

2016 has been what you might call an annus inopinatum – an unexpected year (though with the UK voting out of the EU and the US voting in DT, many readers may well want to stick with annus horribilis). David Burrows picks the key stories and quotes from each month’s RWW

January

Bad news for AD: The Department for Energy and Climate Change announces new measures to deal with the projected over-allocation of renewable energy subsidies.

The news didn’t go down well at the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association, given there would be support for a maximum of 20MW of additional AD capacity each year from 2016-19.
Good news for Al: New figures show that 96% of councils are now collecting aerosols (up from 87% in 2012) and 86% pick up aluminium foil for recycling (up from 35% in 2007). Quote-unquote: “The addition of some nice initiatives does not offset the fact that the legally binding core of the package, notably the waste targets, is weaker than in [the previous] proposal.”Stéphane Arditi, from the European Environmental Bureau, is not the only one critical of the European Commission’s rehashed Circular Economy Package.
Data point: 350,000 tonnes of good quality, reusable clothing is sent to landfill annually.

February

Unfit for purpose: Viridor claims that current waste management systems in England are no longer fit for purpose. “A new and ambitious model that moves resource management beyond local authority boundaries” is needed. Falling on Defra ears: The department’s five- year plan (to 2020) mentions waste crime and litter but little else in relation to resource management.

Quote-unquote: “I’m concerned that the government’s focus exclusively on food and farming does not leave Defra a lot of scope to be very imaginative or innovative.” Labour’s (now former) shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy says what many are thinking.

Data point: Scotland announces a 33% food waste reduction target as part of the country’s new circular economy strategy.

March

Hot topic: Waste regulators and associations join forces with fire officers to undertake waste fire tests.

“With the ever-changing nature of wastes and methods of handling these materials, it is important to update our knowledge of how these materials burn and how best to extinguish the fires,” says Mark Andrews at the Chief Fire Officers Association.
Project sorted: DONG Energy announces that it will build a world-first in Cheshire. Enzymes will be used at the new bioplant to handle unsorted household waste.

Quote-unquote:“...lower gates prices means there is less metal to process, which in turn is leading to a severe risk of closures and job losses.” Robert Fell, chief executive at the British Metals Recycling Association, warns that the grey clouds are gathering over the sector.
Data point: RWW’s European correspondent Lydia Heida reports on some worrying figures, including the 50% of Slovenian municipal waste that is “missing”.

April

Fantastic for plastics: WRAP’s analysis of UK recovered plastics shows “significant progress”, including a “sharp increase” in recycling of plastic packaging (up more than 50% since 2009). The relationship between plastic prices and oil is described as “weak” in the report. Wasteful minority: A poll by Mintel shows that 95% of Brits recycle. However, 9% of 20- to 24-year-olds don’t. This chimes with research by Friends of Glass showing that only half of 18- to 29-year-olds are aware that glass can be re- cycled infinitely.

Quote-unquote: “... when you rewind back to the basics of recycling, I don’t see any appetite from Defra to kickstart the nation’s stalling progress on this front.” RWW’s Westminster columnist Maxine Perella captures the zeitgeist as ministers rally against tough(ish) targets in CE2.0.

Data point: England’s household recycling rate in the 12 months to June 2015 falls to 44.3% (from 45% the previous year).

May

Deflated feeling: The news that Air Products’ Tees Valley gasification project will be wound up continues to attract attention. A cautionary tale for future UK large-scale gasification projects. Responsibility rethink: The Environmental Services Association calls for the introduction of a new framework for producer responsibility – one that transfers responsibility and funding of waste collection systems from local authorities to product supply chains.

Quote-unquote: “We’ve got clients going to market that love their 60%-plus recycling rates, but want that service delivered for between 3% and 10% less. They have been hijacked by the annual cuts regime.” Ricardo’s Adam Read highlights one of the reasons why it’s touch and go whether the UK will meet the 50% by 2020 recycling target.

Data point: Jane Goodwin steps down after 15 years with WRAP. She has a fine record but there is unfinished business. “I really wish I’d made more progress on consistency of waste collections [...] we ought to have achieved more,” she tells RWW.

June

All change: The UK votes for Brexit, triggering political mayhem on both sides of the debate. David Cameron resigns as prime minister.

No change: WRAP says gate fees remained generally stable in 2015/16, though those at materials recovery facilities increased, mainly thanks to changes in commodity price markets and end market prices for recovered materials.

Quote-unquote: “Stepping out of the EU brings financial, policy, legal and performance uncertainty which may well threaten a slowdown or reversal of the improvements we have enjoyed in recent years.” Steve Lee, (now former) chief executive officer at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, reacts to news of Brexit.

Data point: 52% versus 48%; 17,410,742 versus 16,141,241. The public votes to leave the European Union.

July

Appetite for change: WRAP launches the Food Waste Recycling Action Plan for England. The resources minister makes a play for understatement of the year when he says “more can be done” to increase food waste recycling. Still, no harm done: a couple of weeks later he is promoted in a Cabinet reshuffle.

New Defra team: Thérèse Coffey is appointed parliamentary under-secretary of state at Defra, taking on the resources portfolio (Rory Stewart is promoted to minister of state at the Department for International Development). Andrea (is-climate-change-real?) Leadsom becomessecretaryofstatefortheenvironment, and her previous department, DECC, is abolished. Indeed.

Quote-unquote: “Brexit means Brexit.” The new prime minister Theresa May puts everyone’s minds at ease.

Data point: 50% of councils sign up to Scotland’s new recycling charter (16 out of 32 local authorities).

August

Sleepless nights: The National Bed Federation says only 16% of end-of-life mattresses were recycled in 2014; 11% were incinerated and the rest (73%) were sent to landfill.

CIWM’s new CEO: CIWM announces that Colin Church will take over from Steve Lee. Quote-unquote: ReFood’s Philip Simpson suggests: “Free from the shackles of EU red tape, Defra has a critical role to play in setting [waste and recycling] targets and can help Britain to implement waste management laws at a far greater speed.”

Data point: Six billion fewer plastic bags were taken home by shoppers in England thanks to the 5p charge, says Defra (an analysis by Eunomia suggests that isn’t quite accurate).

September

Boob by the Beeb:The BBC reveals that the amount of household rubbish rejected for recycling has rocketed 84% in the past four years. It ignored the fact the data was published by the government in December 2015 and reported by the Daily Mail (who else?) in January 2016.

Well done Wales: Provisional data shows that in 2015/16 the average combined reuse, recycling and composting rate across the country was 60%, up four percentage points on the previous year.

Quote-unquote: “We agree that not enough takeaway cups are recovered and recycled and it is right that the industry as a whole is challenged to confront this issue.”Costa MD Jason Cotta is in conciliatory mood after campaigners accuse the coffee shop chains of greenwashing. The industry (coffee shops, packaging firms and reprocessors) launch a manifesto to increase cup recycling (from its current rate of one in 400) as calls for a 5p tax intensify.

Data point: Google experts tell the RWM conference that there have been 13% more searches for waste management this year than last. Viridor’s recycling index, meanwhile, shows that 66% of Brits are frustrated by the lack of educational materials available on recycling.

October

Pollution under control: Environment Agency data shows that serious pollution incidents at regulated sites have fallen 56% since 2000. Methane emissions from the landfill sector are also down 61% since 2002, the agency reports.

Fly-tipping out of control: A Freedom of information request by retailer Furniture Choice suggests councils are not using new powers to hand out fixed penalties to fly-tippers.

Quote-unquote: “The environment agencies tend to treat people as cowboys and introduce regulations that are not workable.” So says Dr Nina Skorupska, CEO at the Renewable Energy Association in an interview with RWW.

Data point: New statistics show that local authorities in Scotland recycled 44.3% of household waste in 2015. That’s a rise of 1.4 percentage points, but leaves the country a long way off 50% by 2013 that was promised.

November

Hard to swallow: Plastic pollution continues to attract headlines as the Department of Health announces a review of the impact of microplastics on human health (the government is also consulting on a ban on microbeads).

A report by the Environmental Audit Committee earlier in the year highlighted that a plate of six oysters can contain up to 50 particles of plastic.

Hard time: Lee Averies is handed a suspended sentence after admitting two counts of breaching the Environmental Protection Act. His brother, David, is fined over £4,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000. At one of their sites a fire burned for two months.

Quote-unquote: “While the Environment Agency has received additional top-up funding from recent budgets, its overall budget for fighting waste crime is shrinking year-on-year.” Sam Corp, at the Environmental Services Association, suggests not enough resources are available to tackle illegal operators.

Data point: Veolia estimates that the manufacturing, pharmaceutical and food and beverage sectors are sitting on a £4 billion, 13 million tonne “waste mine”.

December

Sleep safe: Biffa, Veolia and B&M Waste Services unveil a joint initiative to tackle the potential deadly issue of people using refuse containers to shelter this winter.

Win some, lose some: The Paris Agreement on climate change comes into force, with the UK joining those that have ratified the deal.

Quote-unquote: “If it’s to become a compulsory target, then will it apply to Scottish councils individually for their household and commercial food waste arisings? And if so, would there be penalties [or] fines imposed on any council not achieving the target?” Stratton MacDonald, from LARAC Scotland, wonders what Scotland’s food waste target will mean for cash-strapped local authorities.

Data point: The overall volume of municipal waste going to landfill in the 32 European Environment Agency countries fell from 49% in 2004 to 34% in 2014. In countries like Austria, Belgium and Switzerland, virtually no municipal waste was sent to landfill.


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