Recycling regulations could inadvertently hinder higher recycling rates

July 28, 2007 at 10:35 am

If you are looking to do your bit to help protect the environment, then recycling used items seems the logical way to start. Each year millions of tonnes of recyclable plastics, paper and glass are dumped into landfills worldwide. Many of these materials do not decompose quickly and when they do, they release toxic chemicals into the environment. However, government regulations and poor collection and sorting facilities often hinder communities from achieving higher recycling rates. This is rather paradoxical given that these regulations were often introduced in the hope that they would allow for greater transparency within the recycling industry.

However, as recent developments demonstrate, not all organisations are restricted in their activities by regulatory barriers. McDonalds recently decided to run its delivery vehicles on bio-diesel, proving that large firms are able to deal easily with the existing framework of regulations. This, however, is not usually the case when it comes to recycling on the household level. Even smaller co-operations often find recycling used materials difficult. In the light of this situation, the Better Regulation Commission has been examining the current regulation surrounding the use of bio-diesel. In meetings with authorities, representatives from the organization have recommended that the government ease controls on the conversion of used cooking oil to bio-diesel, so that more firms can follow the example of McDonald’s green initiative. According to the Commission, the regulators must act as “a champion of progress and enterprise, as well as being a protector”, rather than frequently acting to hinder progress.

Improving the regulatory environment is essential particularly as far as renewable fuels are concerned. As it stands, road transport fuel targets demand that 2.5% of vehicle fuel be obtained from renewable sources by April 2008. This amounts to approximately 500,000 tonnes of vegetable oil. It is hoped that the current target will be increased to 5% by 2010. Whilst the United Kingdom does manufacture some 2 million tones of rapeseed oil each year, it makes sense to satisfy at least part of the fuel target through the use of fast food restaurants’ waste cooking oil.

However, the current regulatory framework makes producing bio-diesel from used cooking oil difficult. Lorries carrying waste oil must be registered to transfer waste and must be in possession of a waste transfer note. In addition, the individual responsible for transporting the waste must carry out numerous checks on the material before passing it on to the recipient organization.Then there are the pollution regulations that firms need to be mindful of. As Rick Haythornthwaite, chair of the Better Regulation Commission notes, “Turning waste cooking oil into bio-diesel, even on a small scale, is covered by the pollution prevention and control regulations because the UK has interpreted the term “industrial scale” in the relevant European directive as “for commercial purposes.”

Whilst the need to monitor the operations of firms within the recycling sector is essential, it is necessary to achieve a balance between having sound controls and ensuring that regulations do not prevent progress. As it stands, the current regulatory framework fails to meet this basic requirement.

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