By James Rubin, CEO, www.envirowaste.co.uk
UK recycling rates increased rapidly by 32% between 2000 and 2012 but recently this rate has flatlined. Only 33.9% of household waste in London was sent for recycling last year despite Boris Johnson suggesting an initial target of 45% and the EU setting a target of 50% recycling by 2020. As Europe’s greenest major city with 40% of surface area made up of public green spaces, we should be able to work towards these targets. 9 out of 10 people in the UK said they would recycle more if it was easier, so what’s holding Londoners back?
There are several underlying issues, for example, flats and shared houses make up a larger proportion of housing in London and this makes recycling more challenging in the capital. The widespread diversity of London residents mean that councils need to find a way to communicate with so many different audiences. Beyond the different audiences, there are also 33 boroughs which mean 33 different policies and this fragmented approach and lack of structure contributes to the issue.
Baroness Jenny Jones, member of the London Assembly, suggested that there is a lack of political will and that recycling is not as heavily prioritised as it should be. Widespread austerity measures and cuts are part of the reason London councils are not prioritising waste and recycling.
The importance of e-waste
Beyond the general recycling issues for the UK, there are severe issues with e-waste. In the UK, more than 300 million tonnes of waste is generated every year and around 2 million of this is Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). This is the fastest growing waste stream worldwide at 3.5% each year and the large amount produced can be more dangerous than general waste since it contains more than 1000 different components, many of which are considered hazardous. This has significant health and environmental effects.
What are the alternatives?
From examining the alternatives to recycling we can see that it is an essential solution for WEEE and waste in general. The Local Government Association warned that by 2018, England will have run out of space for rubbish unless new landfills are found. When people don’t know what to do with waste there are various harmful practices they employ; mainly fly-tipping, illegal exportation and burning.
According to The Guardian, London boroughs are some of the worst offenders for fly-tipping in the UK and the following government actions to resolve these issues costing £45.2 million in 2014. Incineration of waste is particularly an issue in London since 40.9% of London’s waste was burned in 2012-13, a 5% increase on the previous year. Additionally, in 2013, planning permission for an incinerator in Sutton was granted which will only hurt the situation further.
E-waste presents a huge opportunity for the UK in terms of both environmental and economic rationale. For instance, recycling aluminium uses 95% less energy than producing it from new materials. Currently, 50% of businesses do not recycle WEEE but moving to a circular economy model where we reuse more items could contribute £1.7 billion every year to the economy.
What is the solution?
The UK has beaten its 2014 WEEE recycling target of 490,000 tonnes but the target has increased by 16% for 2015. So how can you help? As a consumer of electronic products, try to treat your electrical items carefully and preserve their quality so they can have as long a lifespan as possible. Reuse items or repair them so they will not be wasted. Companies can also help to work towards a better system by sourcing sustainable materials, not practising the disposal methods mentioned earlier like illegal exportation and working in areas like product innovation to help build a long term system for WEEE recycling and a circular economy. Above all, ensure that you are recycling your e-waste in the right way.
For more information about e-waste recycling, read Enviro Waste’s WEEE guide.