MATERIALS & COMMODITIES Why Wait? Weight isn’t working

THE current weight-based recycling targets for municipal waste have been useful in driving performance to date, but their lack of sophistication can create unforeseen behaviours such as the collection of heavy materials like garden waste to increase performance.

In the transition to a circular economy we need to think diff erently about what we need to do to improve environmental performance across the value chain and not just at the kerbside, and how we can measure success.

Weight just isn’t working anymore, and with the development of a new waste and resources strategy we now have the perfect opportunity to transition away from blunt weight-based targets to smarter indicators for the circular economy.

The ESA commissioned research to explore the potential benefi ts of using alternate metrics/measures for diff erent materials, and the development of management models that would demonstrate and drive environmental performance.

Weight based recycling targets have served us well to date, but we have reached a stage where the race to improve perceived performance can drive unforeseen behaviours. The waste prevention message can get lost amongst

THE Environmental Services Association (ESA) have looked at what it will take to meet the (weight based) recycling targets proposed by the EU Circular Economy Package.Current weight

based recycling targets for waste have been useful in driving performance to date, but are they fi t for purpose?

messaging that recycling is the right thing to do.

Heavier materials such as garden waste can be targeted for collection, whereas the better environmental option could be home composting. For garden waste in particular this can create a performance divide between urban and rural authorities, making performance comparison unreliable.

The focus on quantity can mean that quality is compromised, with low quality/contaminated materials sent to be recycled.

Importantly, end of life targets also fail to create any drive for producers to design products that are more durable or easier to reuse or recycle.

Our understanding of product lifecycles has become more sophisticated, and we need to update our approach to ensure

our actions and priorities are geared towards achieving the best environmental outcomes and that all stakeholders are involved in the process.

We will need to continue reporting performance against weight-based targets in line with the requirements of the Circular Economy Package; however, there is an opportunity to think diff erently.

Our waste management system is and will continue to be weight based – we record the weight of waste and recycling collected and our materials are bought and sold by weight. But we can add sophistication by using this weight data in a smarter manner, by combining it with other data and information.

The fi rst step in the process is to understand what behaviours we’re trying to achieve.

Many environmental impacts can be avoided by designing products in the right way, and it’s important that producers take responsibility for the products that they create and sell (producer responsibility).

Post Brexit, regardless of the targets utilised, there will need to be signifi cant extra resource invested in the waste management sector. This will be enhanced by the need to feed down national analysis into industry target setting.

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SHWM September, 2018 59

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