"Bring" systems alone will miss recycling target

An interim evaluation by Warren Spring Laboratory (WSL) of the costs and benefits of "bring" systems compared with "kerbside" collection of recyclable domestic waste has concluded that bring systems alone are unlikely to meet the Government's recycling target.1 Waste diversion rates of only 4-8% have been recorded in trials. Current schemes are profitable, but local authorities face extra expenditures if they wish to expand them.

In 1990, the Government set itself a target to recycle 50% of recyclable household waste by 2000. Two methods of separating waste at source are being tested to help meet this. "Bring" systems use recycling centres to which the public take recyclable waste. "Collect" systems involve kerbside collections of recyclables from each household.

The relative merits of the two systems have provoked considerable debate. WSL's study, which is being sponsored by the Department of the Environment, should enable the comparison to be made on an equal footing once it is completed.

WSL studied bring systems in the rural areas of Dorset and Ryedale near York, and the suburban areas of Richmond and Sutton in south-west London. They found waste diversion rates of 4.1% in Ryedale and 8.2% in Richmond. Even if these schemes were expanded "it seems unlikely that commitment to bring systems alone will achieve the Government's recycling target," WSL concludes.

At this stage WSL has made only approximate comparisons with kerbside schemes (see table ). It warns that the methods used to calculate material recovery rates differ between the two types of schemes, making comparisons hazardous. For example, the inclusion of other disposal routes, such as civic amenity sites, in bring system statistics has the effect of lowering the programme recovery rates. The figures may also represent different years, and for kerbside collection WSL had to rely on cost data provided by the scheme operators.

The figures show that higher diversion rates of all materials except glass bottles are generally being achieved in kerbside schemes - albeit at a higher cost. More efficient kerbside schemes are being developed which may bring costs down (ENDS Report 220, pp 11-12 ). Similarly, the figures do not represent the optimum values obtainable by bring systems. Meanwhile, an integrated approach is seen by some to be the best way to achieve higher recovery rates.

The study confirms that bring systems generate more income in urban than in rural areas. This is due to the higher levels of recycling credits paid and the higher tonnages involved.

However, all bring schemes are making an apparent profit for the authorities concerned without considering the wider costs, such as those incurred by industry. Even if hidden expenses to councils are considered, such as the cost of employing a recycling officer and promotion, most schemes would still remain cash positive, WSL says.

But bring systems for plastics are particularly costly. In Dorset, quoted expenditure exceeds income "significantly". Costs may be falling with efficiency improvements being introduced by Recoup (ENDS Report 216, p 14 ).

WSL goes on to warn that existing cost structures are unlikely to persist. For example, most of the income derived from can recycling is currently diverted to charities. The schemes being studied have also benefitted from pioneering recycling work and have received financial help from industry.

But councils wishing to extend their schemes are facing difficulties in gaining industry backing. Contractors who previously supplied banks free of charge and paid the servicing costs, the report says, now appear reluctant to add to existing bank numbers. Councils will therefore be obliged to purchase and service additional banks.

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