Recycled litter could generate £15 million for the UK, according to a new report. However, with many recyclables still ending up in landfills or being transported overseas, many critics question whether recycling is even worth it.
The report, published by the group Keep Britain Tidy, calculated the direct costs of cleaning up litter in the UK at £1 billion per year, and called for an increase in the amount of waste that is actually recycled.
The findings stated that if half of the littered items in Britain were recycled, the economy would receive a £14.8 million annual boost through the re-use of these products, and reduced costs of transporting them to landfills.
Recycling in Britain has increased significantly over the past two decades, with 43 percent of all household waste now recycled, compared to just 7 percent in the 1995. This increase has been promoted by the government and environmental groups as part of EU targets to recycle 50 percent of household waste by 2020.
However, despite a greater environmental awareness and calls for an increase in recycling, there are still significant amounts of recyclables that end up as rubbish, while 70 percent of all British usable household waste is sent overseas to processing plants in countries like China.
Many critics of recycling say that the cost of transporting this waste to China is not efficient, and that environmental emissions associated with transporting the waste in fact outweigh the potential benefits associated with recycling the products in the first place.
Keep Britain Tidy’s evidence and policy manager Tim Burns says he understands the arguments about the inefficiency of sending recyclables overseas, but the environmental benefits of offshore processing are far greater than simply dumping them in landfills.
“We’d like to see more infrastructure developed back in the UK, so that we can process materials more effectively and can gain more jobs and economic value from that. And it also means that we’ve got a sustainable, recyclable supply of materials feeding our economy,” Burns said. “In some respects, the environmental damage isn’t quite as bad as what we’re being led to believe, because the ships come across from China, supplying a lot of the goods that we buy, and they go back empty. Sometimes they even need to put on water, or sometimes recyclables for ballast. So effectively you’ve got a lot of empty journeys going back to China from the UK that are filled with recyclables that China then uses to package and provide more goods for the UK”.
Other critics have cited the complexities of the current recycling process as a reason why significant amounts of ‘contaminated’ recyclable waste is dumped into landfill.
They attack the over-complication of the process in some parts of the country, which some say can lead to people simply giving up on recycling altogether.
In some regions of Britain, residents are supplied with nine different types of bags and bins to dispose of different types of recyclables, leading to widespread confusion.
Although this practice has been applauded for separating the various types of recyclables, many local citizen groups have argued that this is impractical, particularly for those living in high-rise and built up urban areas.
The establishment of more advanced waste-sorting machinery in facilities across the UK has led to many different types of recyclable waste — such as glass and paper — being successfully separated and therefore able to be re-used.
However, this system is not yet widespread throughout the country, with much of Britain’s mixed recyclables ending up in landfill.
Although the debate over the practicality and cost efficiency of recycling processes continues, Tim Burns believes there are unintended consequences for society stemming from preventable littering.
“There are other associated costs that are more hidden or less direct. For example, litter is often associated with a high risk of crime, or that litter has a material value if it was recycled or used more effectively. It can cause tyre punctures, traffic accidents or wildfires, so there are all of these less direct but costly impacts of having litter across the country,” he said.
The KBT report cited research which found a correlation between places with significant amounts of litter and crime. The study found that areas that had seen a significant reduction in the amount of rubbish on the streets had also seen a significant drop in the number of reported crimes, as opposed to those areas that weren’t cleaned.
The increased emphasis on recycling has prompted Tim Burns to point out the additional public services that could be improved as a result of costs being appropriated from cleaning litter.
“We haven’t thought too much about what money could be spent on — we’ve focussed more on what money could be saved… But when money is going towards that, [cleaning rubbish] it can’t be spent on libraries, social care, education or other vital services that local authorities provide… The more that we can do to reduce the cost of statutory services – like litter collection – the more that money can be dedicated towards where that need is greatest.”
Criticism over current recycling practices and the decision to ship recyclable waste overseas has highlighted some of the inefficiencies of the current practice in the UK.
While acknowledging some of the shortfalls in the current recycling process, campaigners argue that maintaining a ‘green’ approach to processing recyclables will have a far greater environmental, economic and social impact in the long run.
Source: sputnik news. 04 December 2014http://uk.sputniknews.com/uk/20141204/1013276585.html