Lessons in the Science of Recycling Statistics

D.E.F.R.A. have just published their outline proposals for a “Quality Action Plan” on recycling. It includes figures now emerging from their hiding place, as a result both of many complaints from the Recycling industry (not to be confused with the Waste industry) about the very poor quality of materials sent for recycling, and the general public’s sceptism about recycling. Is it interesting? Or is it cause for a heavy sigh, and a mutter of “Just as I thought?”

If you are involved in recycling you will have known for a long time that the trumpeted statistics for UK recycling are wildly inaccurate. This is mainly because when it comes to compiling statistics, DEFRA and the Councils have appeared not to know the meaning of the word “Recycling”. In September 2011, the EU specifically defined (for those that needed it) the difference between “Recycling” and “Recovery”, but in the nearly 18 months since, our authorities have managed to avoid taking this simple piece of Non-Rocket-Science on board. They have also been confusing “Collected” and “Recycled.”

“RECYCLING” is defined as processing or reprocessing a material to the effect that it can be made into, or used as a new product of the same or similar material.

If you incinerate, compost, use as aggregate, bio-digest, or process for Energy-from-Waste, for example, it is simple to see that none of these are “Recycling”. Material processed or treated in some way to make something entirely different, is defined as “RECOVERY”.

By the simple expedient of pretending that you neither know the difference, or have knowledge of the 2011 Regulations, you can include all your Recovery tonnages in the recycling figures. Add in the “Collected” figures and you have a most satisfactorily uplifting effect on the recycling statistics. The weight of all the glass, foodwaste, garden waste and paper put into compost, and most of all, the materials sent to Incineration, will be substantial – and in probably every case considerably more than that of the (really) Recycled materials.

“Zero to Landfill!” – the new buzzwords in Recycling. “Zero to Landfill” means compacting together a mélange of all sorts of materials, and sending them to Waste Removal Derry  an Incineration plant. In that mixture are thousands and thousands of tonnes of paper grades, plastics, metals, textiles, and some non-recyclable waste. The majority of this has been pre-sorted by householders or businesses, to facilitate recycling. However, it is all collected and compacted together, after which little of it can be recycled because it is now far too contaminated with other materials, and soiling.

“Zero to Landfill” therefore means that all this recyclable material and more, is going to the incinerator plant. The bottom ash (25-30% of the original volume) is… you’ve guessed it! – almost always landfilled, but not by the party who sent it to incineration, So That’s All Right Then. The only difference between the original material and the residual bottom ash is that the bottom ash is now more toxic and carcinogenic, having changed its composition and become supplemented with dangerous heavy metals during the burning process.

And what of the smoke? Ah – that’s dispensed by very tall chimneys, so that the direct neighbourhood doesn’t feel harmed by it. A good tall chimney can dispense it over a much wider area, so that’s also All Right Then. On the way up the chimney, are monitors for around 2-3% of the hazardous chemicals contained in the smoke/steam, and filters in the flue gas treatment section catch the majority of the hazardous dust. The filters need to be landfilled, and contain up to 5% of the original volume.


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