Recycling industry looks to claw best from Brexit

27th March 2017 | Recycling

Three miles outside Bicester is a peculiar building, known locally as “the fish”. It is tucked between green fields in the Oxfordshire countryside and is bigger than two football pitches. Each day 70 trucks rattle their way to its door, carrying household rubbish to this 11 hectare site and dump it in a giant bunker. A mechanical claw then mixes it.

Waste is burned at temperatures of up to 950C to produce electricity. The gas which is produced is treated to remove pollutants. For decades, the way the UK deals with its rubbish has been shaped by European directives. Policies which govern waste-to-energy like this one could change after Britain leaves the EU. And so could the wider recycling industry.

Susan Davy, finance director of Pennon which owns the £205m Ardley site, has a five point “waste hierarchy”. This covers different methods of dealing with rubbish according to what is best for the environment.

Recycling Industry

Public bodies and businesses have to prioritise efforts to reduce waste, then reuse items, followed by recycling, “recovery”, and finally disposal. Waste-to-energy plants qualify as “recovery” and are considered better for the environment than sending rubbish to landfill sites. This is where harmful methane gas is released.

Under EU rules, such as the 1999 Landfill Directive, Britain has reduced the proportion of municipal waste dumped in landfill sites from 80 per cent in 2000-01 to 20 per cent in 2014-15.

Meanwhile the proportion of waste which is recycled has been gradually rising from 40.4 per cent in 2010 to 44.3 per cent last year. The Government has a target of 50 per cent by 2020.

The fall in prices has put pressure on every part of the waste management industry. Europe has had a “massive impact” on waste policy, says Richard Howards of the Policy Exchange. The aims of the European waste policy are becoming increasingly unclear. Since 2014, the European Commission has been working on a “circular economy” action plan with new targets for increasing recycling and reducing landfill waste.

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