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At Last Recycling in the UK Truly Makes Sense at the Bywaters’, Recycling and Recovery Facility, Bow, London

Commercial and Industrial Waste Recycling

Ever since the Waste Strategy Unit’s final report, “Waste not, want not” was published on 27 November 2002, the UK has been and working towards truly significant targets which will substantially reduce the tonnages of waste to landfill. Landfills which were filling at an ever increasing rate were threatening to cover the land and rise above it, eventually filling every quarry and patch of waste land in our urban areas and then eating up huge tracts of farm land as well.

During 2002, the long-standing theoretical acceptance that continuing dependence on landfill for more than 80% of all our wastes was unsustainable finally began to be echoed in a coherent strategy and alongside the good words ‘fiscal incentives’ and ‘penalties’ were brought in which began, in time, to have some effect. These have included the annually increasing landfill tax (now Active waste – £46 (or £40/tonne (+VAT) at June 2009), and starting in 2007 the requirement that all waste be pre-treated in some way before it could be accepted at any landfill.

Watch the Official Bywaters Video about this plant:

In the background, the Environment Agency has also been tightening the environmental protection standards required of the landfill operators which has simultaneously increased their costs which have been passed on to the landfill users. This means that the landfills now accepting the pre-treated residual wastes after recycling, while still far from perfect, are much better able to contain their waste burden without producing the environmental emissions and bad-neighbour nuisances of the past.

Over the same period public willingness to recycle in their homes has also risen encouraged by separate waste collections which have progressively been introduced by local authorities and which have extended the quantity and range of source separated and comingled Municipal Solid Waste diverted away from landfill.

Throughout that period there have been many doubters and those running good businesses in the recycling industry continued to battle against a background of volatile and uncertain recyclate materials markets to win disposal contracts and remain commercially viable must have often wondered why they were doing it. The best of these businesses have somehow survived, winning recycling contracts commercially while at risk from highly volatile recycled material prices, and competing against the much lower cost option of disposal to landfill.

At some point it was all going to make both environmental AND commercial sense to recycle, but many worried whether the industry ever quite get there before the political will to do so was lost.

For a long while the industry pundits have talked of the need to reach a theoretical “tipping point” at which as the landfill tax elevator rises, and the combination of many other smaller regulatory effects come together, and how they will push the cost of landfilling above the cost of recycling. This point appears to have now been reached or is very close. The rate of landfill tax for landfill disposal active waste has increased by £8/tonne per annum from 1st April 2008 and will continue to increase by £8/tonne on 1st April each year to 2013.

The UK government funded WRAP organisation which researches and promotes recycling waste diversion has published rates for current waste treatment technologies generally within the range of £45 to £65/tonne, so it would appear that UK landfill charges are now just reaching the tipping point.

That all this was finally adding up to profitable cost competitive recycling is being confirmed by the leading waste recycling companies in the commercial and industrial waste sector. Finally, this year (with the additional cost of landfill from 1 April), the market for commercial and industrial recycling which was previously lagging behind the municipal waste recycling scene is catching up. Maybe, it may soon even overtake the recycling rates achieved in municipal/household recycling?

All this adds up to a great opportunity for a family run business like Bywaters, with its friendly and enthusiastic staff at plants like the Recycling and Recovery Facility at Bow, and for so long dedicated to sustainable business, to now also reap the economic benefits they deserve for themselves and their clients.

As I found during a recent visit to the Bywaters Bow Recycling Plant, staff work very closely with the waste producing companies from which they accept their waste, such that quite soon after even the least “environmentally aware” organisations come aboard, they are able to up their game and massively improve the purity of their client’s source segregation systems within just a few short months

This is a win-win situation because not only is the residual waste quantity reduced for the client, but the value of the purer recycled (source segregated) material reduces the processing cost at the Bywaters’ faciility. This enables real cost benefits to all parties, not least to the buyer of the much cleaner recyclate products produced, who in turn will happily pay substantially more for the higher quality recyclate material.

These recycling companies are now well placed to continue to raise recycling rates as a percentage of total waste produced, satisfying public demand, and to work in partnership with their clients to further invest in improving the efficiency of the their recycling processes. These improvements also aided by their clients will continue to push down costs, and are already providing higher quality recycled raw materials, of a consistency, quantity, and quality which could never have been imagined just 7 years ago when “Waste not, want not” was published.

The future will see reliable and “main stream” bulk availability of quality controlled recycled products. I am convinced that the very existence of these products will continue to raise the game in recycling to take it to a new level where these waste products become seen as the norm. They will be expected to comprise at least a part of the raw material used in every product, and this will happen throughout the production industries.

The positive feedback which will result will further stabilise and raise the markets in recycled commodities and the volatility in these markets will in turn moderate to become unremarkable.

So, for any companies that are not recycling their waste, the message is that there can be absolutely no reason now for not getting involved to the fullest. Being “green” in industrial and commercial waste management just makes sense like never before.

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