Metals recycling | Credit: SHnaks Group
Policy Exchange argues UK should ditch EU Circular Economy package in favour of new approach to recycling and energy-from-waste plants
The EU’s Circular Economy package could cost the UK £2bn over the next 20 years and should be replaced by a new UK approach to waste and recycling policy post-Brexit.
That is the conclusion of a new report from the Policy Exchange think tank, which argues the EU policy package’s over-arching targets to boost recycling rates to 65 per cent by 2030 are “badly designed” and risk loading costs on to businesses while failing to maximise environmental benefits.
The report argues developing a new national waste strategy would allow the UK to focus more on energy-from-waste technologies, including emerging ‘green gas’ systems, noting that last year the UK spent £280m exporting waste overseas, where other countries used it to produce energy.
Critics of waste-to-energy plants have accused them of contributing to local air pollution and leading to higher carbon emissions compared to recycling higher levels of waste materials.
However, advocates of the approach argue modern waste-to-energy systems result in negligible air quality impacts and provide a cost effective and low carbon source of power.
The report, entitled Going Round in Circles, also argues the launch of a new national waste strategy would allow the UK to tackle long-standing issues in the recycling sector, which have been blamed for a recent stalling in improvements in recycling rates.
For example, it proposes government interventions to develop markets in scrap metals, and argues Local Authorities should be required to use one of three standardised systems for collecting waste and recycling – simplifying the more than 400 systems which currently operate across England.
It also proposes that Household Waste Recycling Centres should be allowed to become collection points for reusable items – an approach that illegal under current waste rules.
“Since 2000, the UK has made significant progress in the way we think about waste – boosting the level of recycling and cutting greenhouse gas emissions from waste,” said Policy Exchange’s head of environment and energy, Richard Howard, in a statement. “But there are still significant issues. For example, households are totally confused about what they can recycle, with more than 400 different collection systems across the country. Since 2011, the UK has spent nearly £1bn exporting our waste overseas, where it is burned to produce energy – energy we don’t benefit from.”
He added that the EU’s proposed ‘Circular Economy package’ is “ill defined and poorly thought through”.
“It focuses too much on the means rather than the ends,” he said. “The UK government needs to take back control and develop a more coherent set of waste policies which better serve UK businesses and households, as well as the environment.”
However, supporters of the Circular Economy package have argued it would help ensure the UK government remains focused on improving recycling rates and developing more circular business models, given its previous failure to develop more effective domestic waste policies, which has left it with recycling rates that lag behind many of its European neighbours.