UK Recycling Update: the good, bad and the ugly.


The good

The UK is now recycling twice as much as it did 3 years ago. The current 25% target was surpassed with an actual average recycling rate of 26.7%. See here.

The bad

The sorting part of the recycling loop is not coping with the increased recycled material coming to them. Only one fully automatic sorting system is in place within the UK and even it is not perfect. Different councils have different approaches to recycling. Some ask for material separation to be done by the householder and others have this done off-site. The latter encourages more recycling. See this BBC video.

The ugly

The recycling loop is now global. For example, as previously blogged by The Coffee House, the empty containers at UK ports that have had their Chinese goods off-loaded are partially filled with paper and card for the return journey. In China this fulfills their increasing need for recycled material for packaging. With this global loop the energy use involved with recycling grows, which would seem to negate the whole point of material recycling! 😦

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4 Responses to UK Recycling Update: the good, bad and the ugly.

  1. Jim says:

    Cool post, lets hope 2007 can see even more progress made in the UK.
    However, I don’t quite understand the third point ‘the ugly’.
    Why is it that a thriving export market in recycled paper is necessarily a bad thing. The additional energy consumption used in transporting the paper back on the return journey is likely to be v.very small (although i don’t know the exact figure, long distance shipping is surprisingly carbon-efficient relative to alternatives and the journey would be occurring anyway). The alternative would presumably be Chinese non-recycled paper products competing with expensive UK/EU recycled paper products, and i know which consumers would choose. Also, to achieve even this undesirable outcome, we would presumably have to legislate to say recycled materials cannot be exported, or impose an export duty, both of which strike me as even more counterproductive as it creates distortions throughout the recycling industry.

  2. matt says:

    Hi Jim,

    Yes I agree with you. It’s the point of no return that I’m talking about. The fact that huge trade journeys are now commom place for basically common products and that this has even sucked in the recycling trade. Filling up empty containers makes perfect sense but, the increasing withdrawal of manufacturing away from Britain and the EU does not. A smaller regional carbon footprint has got to be better than a global one.

  3. Jim says:

    Ok, as a general trend it is perhaps regrettable from an environmental perspective that we live in an increasingly globalised world, but lets not throw the baby out with the bath water. if the purpose of recycling this paper is simply to decrease the carbon impact british paper consumers have then my point stands, if we take global trade as a given economic reality. If we are hoping to stem the tide of globalisation, im afraid that ship has well and truly sailed, if you pardon my pun.
    Lets assume what we actually want to do is ensure our economy has as small a carbon footprint as possible in the context of maintaining a roughly stable standard of living. do we prevent carbon-intensive products entering the EU in order to create this regionally self-reliant trade block you seem to point toward?
    I would propose instead that we embrace global trade but recognise its major shortcoming- the fact that people do not have sufficient incentive currently to control their environmental footprint or give much regard to the environment in general. if we impose a price (tax or carbon allowances) on the carbon emitted, then the most polluting production process is penalised in favour of the less. this is by far the fairest way of organising international trade.
    by way of illustration- and i havent double checked the figures but- i believe new zealand lamb imported all the way to the UK is actually LESS carbon intensive than the welsh equivalent. surely if this is so, finding a way to encourage welsh farmers to reduce their carbon footprint would be to tax them until they do so, rather than banning the more environmentally friendly new zealand farmers given the shipping involved?

  4. matt says:

    Yes, widening the EU Carbon Trading scheme is a way forward, although it still needs to prove itself. Eleven countries out of 15 within the EU were recently criticized by the EU Commissioner for the Environment for being too generous with their carbon allocations for big businesses. The UK was the only star pupil because it has been genuinely attempting to make the scheme work. Setting up the ‘carbon market’ in London has been a part of this proactive approach.

    I’ve heard that claim regarding NZ lamb. Here’s the source of the claim;

    Page 104 has a summary table comparing NZ & UK lamb. It concludes that the UK produces 4 times as much CO2 emissions as NZ sheep farming. From this it would appear that, yes, applying a ‘carbon scheme’ to UK farmers would help them focus on cost savings. This assumes however that this is possible. For example, intensively grazed UK farms using high amounts of fertilizer compared to NZ’s large sheep stations, may not have the option to reduce fertilizer use. They may however consider importing Dutch pig slurry which the Dutch farmers are desperately trying to get rid of !! 🙂

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