Mixed messages in dumping scandal

September 30, 2008 at 9:56 am

Revelations made by ITV’s Tonight programme (aired 08/09/08) are being underplayed by the recycling industry. The show revealed that recycling collected by 4 separate local councils in the UK is being shipped and dumped illegally in India. Waste collected by Leicestershire County Council, and Wakefield, Wellingborough and Tendring District Councils was discovered 4500 miles away, buried in an area of farmland at the base of the Nilgiri Hills in the state of Tamil Nadu.

According to the programme, a tonne of waste can be dumped in India for £40, as opposed to being recycled within the UK for £148. Apparently a company near to the site is supposed to be importing and recycling British paper waste but is instead buying our waste unsorted, having dollar-a-day labourers sift it, and dumping whatever cannot be used.

The documentary, entitled ‘A Rubbish Service’, and reporter Mark Jordan’s accompanying Daily Mail article, paint a worrying picture.

Not the whole story

However, the Environmental Agency is confident that the vast majority of the 12-14 million tonnes of waste exported from the UK to be recycled in developing countries is done so legally, and claims that the story unearthed by ITV is not indicative of wider problems in the international recycling market.

Head of Waste at the EA, Liz Parks, has voiced concerns over the media handling of the story, identifying the real issue as being “poor quality recyclables” and not the shipping of waste abroad. Paul Dumpleton, Director of Materials for waste and recycling firm Shanks, believes the fault lies with the Indian paper mill close to the site at the centre of the controversy. Speaking to, Dumpleton explained that “recyclable material found in the Indian landfill sites were the out throws of the paper mill that was close to the site in question.” He emphatically states that “this has nothing to do with commingled collections. It is nothing to do with illegal shipments. It is just about the process in an Indian paper mill.”

Hopefully Parks and Dumpleton are right, and the documentary’s findings do not herald a bigger problem much closer to home.

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Accusations of “double standards” fly

September 24, 2008 at 1:14 pm

Just when we thought we were doing well as a nation with our recycling, it turns out that there is no room for complacency. Accusations of double standards have been flying recently, with those in the south east of England apparently being the worst offenders.

It seems that far too many of us are heavily reliant on our local council’s schemes rather than taking the initiative ourselves. According to research for Zurich Insurance, thousands of tonnes of rubbish are sent to landfill each week which, if we were just that bit more motivated, could be recycled.

Almost a quarter of us feels that it is too much trouble to go to the local facility and would rather throw rubbish out than have to recycle it ourselves. Whilst a respectable number of us are happy to do our green duty so long as the council picks up our recycling, a small minority (one in eleven) are too lazy even to sort our rubbish and one in eight of us simply cannot be bothered washing out tins and containers for recycling.

If the British public cannot be educated into taking more personal responsibility for recycling then, according to a spokesperson for Zurich Municipal, it is essential that councils “continue to develop flexible plans to meet the demands of this changing landscape."

Zurich’s research also showed that fly tipping has become more of a problem over the last three years and that people in the UK want harsh measures taken against offenders. Almost half of us feels that the vehicle used to commit the offence should be destroyed and almost a fifth would like to see the offenders serve a prison sentence.

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Supermarkets finally to recycle food waste

September 17, 2008 at 2:18 pm

Ever wondered what happens to all those old bruised and black bananas and all those potatoes with shoots sprouting out of them when they are done with in the major supermarkets? Well sadly and strangely the answer wasn’t a very good one for the environment… until now. This might soon be about to change.

Waitrose announced this month that they would be piloting a new ingenious scheme that will mean all that old food will be turned into a renewable fuel. There will be five Waitrose stores across the UK that will be gathering all their old degradable food and then seeing it heated and turned into a methane-rich bio-gas that will be capable of acting as a replacement for electricity. It then leaves an odourless and entirely organic fertiliser.

Anaerobic digestion might sound like a physical way of helping us avoid stomach aches but it’s actually the name of the process. It is much easier than we might think to hold back all the waste foods from the supermarkets and then add to a container for this process. It’s not actually Waitrose who conduct the anaerobic digestion but a company called Biogen.

It’s Waitrose’s aim to power over 500 homes using this process and to get the bio-gas plugged into the National Grid as soon as the tests have been passed and approved. Something that helps prevent things going to landfill and also provides us with a new source of energy seems likely to be a sure fire hit.

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UK recycles the most mobiles

September 10, 2008 at 1:17 pm

A consumer survey released by Nokia has revealed that the UK is top of the global league when it comes to recycling mobile phones. 10% of people interviewed in the UK had recycled a mobile phone in the past, which doesn’t sound like an awful lot. However, when you consider that only 3% of people across the world have recycled a phone, the UK is well ahead of the pack.

The survey consisted of interviewing 6,500 people in 13 different countries, including Germany, Finland, USA, Nigeria and Brazil amongst others, to create a truly global picture of the state of mobile phone recycling. The aim of the survey was to find out about the attitudes and behaviours of people across the world, and also to provide information about Nokia’s own recycling schemes.

As well as the low rates of recycling in evidence across the world, the survey also revealed a large amount of ignorance on the matter. One fifth of people in the UK are unaware that mobile phones can even be recycled and the figure across the world is even worse, with an average of 50% saying they did not know it was possible.

Markus Terho, director of environmental affairs, said that if everyone who owns a mobile device brought back just one unused device we “could save 240,000 tonnes of raw materials”, which would be equivalent to “taking four million cars off the road” in terms of the amount of greenhouse gasses released.

Nokia has recently opened a new service outside their main Regent Street store, promoting greater recycling of handsets. Each new handset box sold will provide recycling information to increase awareness and will hopefully lead to a greater number of phones being recycled in the future.

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Council taxpayers face £3 billion landfill fines

September 3, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Despite a recently reported rise in recycling rates, local councils will face fines of up to £3 billion for waste sent to landfill – a bill ultimately paid by council taxpayers.

Surprisingly, Environment Minister Joan Ruddock seemed pleased with the latest municipal waste statistics, covering the period from October to December 2007, saying,

“Local authorities and their residents are making good progress. We still have some way to go before we are performing at the level of some of our nearest neighbours in Europe. But we are catching them up, and positive feedback like this should encourage all of us to keep up the effort to reduce and recycle our rubbish.”

A closer look at the figures shows that the “good progress” includes a reduction in household waste from 25.8m to 25.6m tonnes – a drop of just 0.8 per cent. And although household recycling went up by 3 points to 33.9 per cent, this means that around two-thirds of our rubbish still ends up in landfill.

Responding to the statistics in rather less glowing terms, Councillor Paul Bettison from the Local Government Association said,

“Britain is the dustbin of Europe and dumps more waste into the ground than any other country in the EU. This is costing the council taxpayer dearly in landfill taxes. Councils are still facing fines of up to £3 billion if we do not dramatically reduce the amount of waste thrown into landfill.”

So does recycling in Britain really lag behind the rest of Europe?

Europe produces more than a billion tonnes of waste every year, but the EU is committed to reducing this. By early 2008, five EU countries had already achieved the 50 per cent recycling rate for municipal solid waste – the level currently being proposed by the European Parliament as a binding target for all EU governments by 2020. Denmark and the Netherlands, for example, send almost no waste to landfill, whilst the Netherlands and Austria recycle or compost the most waste, at more than 60 per cent each.

However, Britain certainly does not deserve the title of ‘dustbin of Europe’; previous statistics show that Greece landfills more than 90 per cent of its rubbish, with Portugal not far behind.

There’s no room for complacency, though. With the landfill tax rising each year, we must all reduce the amount of waste we generate – especially the type that can’t be recycled – if we want to keep council tax bills down. Nearly two thirds of all household rubbish can be recycled, which saves energy and raw materials. Even better is avoiding waste in the first place, or repairing and re-using items.

Remember the waste hierarchy: Prevention; Re-use; Recycling; Other forms of recovery; Disposal.

If your council is poor at recycling, write to them or contact your local councillor to demand better recycling facilities now. Find details for your council here.

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