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Jan 25

UK Receives ‘Pat on the Back’ as EU Waste Levels Set to Soar

The UK received a pat on the back last week for our recycling efforts –

Too right as well, we have pushed our recycling rate up from 7% in 1996/97 to nearly 40% in 2009/10 (including reuse and composting) which is good going if you ask me.

With all the recycling bins everyone has been given in recent years (what do you put in this one again?) and with kerbside collections it would have been hard for us not to have made some sort of improvement.

In the UK there is still a vast difference between top performing councils and the worst performing councils in terms of recycling.

I am getting away from the point here….

Yes, we have improved recycling rates in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Some countries like Germany and Denmark are streets ahead of us with recycling rates of 70% and have been doing it for years. That largely still misses the point.

So here’s the point. Though I am sure many of you may be familiar with the waste hierarchy diagram in some form or other, please allow me to refresh your memory. Here it is:

Waste Hierarchy

credit – barkingside21.blogspot.com

Lets take a quick look at what’s at the top of theĀ  diagram: ‘Reduce’ (lowering the amount of waste produced). Recycling appears halfway down.

As pointed out by Lets Recycle in the article, the report finds that the EU could be doing more to prevent municipal waste arisings. That is because the actual amount of waste we here in Europe produce year on year – is going up….. and it is projected to keep going up (by 7%) between now and 2020! (see pgs 64/65).

Let me just say that again to make it clear: The amount of household waste we produce in the EU is going up each year and is projected to keep going up every year for the next 10 years.

The waste hierarchy is supposed to be fundamental to waste management practices in Europe but clearly this is not the case in practice.

Why are we not reducing the amount of waste we produce, why in fact is it increasing!?

The amount of waste we produce is coupled to economic growth and this is demonstrated by the slight drop in waste arisings in 2008/09 when the European economy faltered.

Well, what does it matter if recycling rates are now so high? This is missing the point again. For every 1kg of municipal waste arisings 70kg of waste are produced further upstream in the process so even if we achieved 100% recycling rates we would still produce mountains of waste in extration, production and the other processes that go into making goods and getting them to the shops.

While it is all well and good recycling we need to reduce the amount of materials we are consuming and the amount of waste we produce as a result, that is the big challenge now.

Further info: The Story of Stuff

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