The UK currently has a target to recycle 50% of waste by the year 2020, and at the moment we are achieving around 45% – not on target yet, but pretty good. The same cannot be said for some of our European neighbours. The lowest recycling rate is in Romania which has only achieved 3%, and 6 other European countries are at less than 20% – Slovakia, Estonia, Croatia, Greece, Malta and Latvia. The European Commission (EC) is now proposing a new set of targets for 2030 but surprise surprise, not all countries will be treated equally.
The UK will have to achieve a target of 65% by 2030, but the seven countries I have just named will be given a lower target and have to achieve 60% Even this is going to be a tall order; Romania is surely going to struggle to rise from 3% to 60% The others, although doing rather better, will struggle too at this time of international crisis and economic instability.
The UK government has expressed concern at the new targets, which are legally binding, so if we don’t achieve them we face being fined. They are naturally concerned that it will costly and inconvenient for both businesses and households, and local councils will have to police the bin bags and impose fines for non-compliance with recycling rules. One MEP has pointed out that nothing appeared to be happening to force the poorly-performing countries to get closer to their targets, and they were even being given softer targets than the better-performing countries. To quote the expression used, they were being ‘let off the hook’.
The 65% target is lower than the 70% target the EC originally proposed, but will still be difficult to achieve without fallout. For example, it is proposed to give people smaller dustbins and collect the rubbish less frequently. In theory, this will force people to recycle more material simply to get rid of it, but in reality, making it harder to dispose of rubbish simply causes an increase in fly tipping and other illegal waste disposal methods.
Speaking personally, I separate and recycle every single item that can currently be recycled – cans, glass bottles and jars, plastic bottles, paper and food waste – I sometimes feel that the kerb collection people ‘tut’ at the amount of stuff I do put out for recycling. However, there are so many items that can’t be recycled but still need to be disposed of; plastic food packaging is one of my pet hates – there is so much of it. I don’t buy many prepared foods, so minimise the amount of packaging I bring home, but even some fresh foods are packaged so it’s hard to avoid it.
Most food is over-packaged not for the consumer’s benefit, but for the benefit of the supermarkets. It makes items easier to handle, look prettier on the display shelves, and last longer. I have to pay for this packaging in the cost at the till, and then find ways to dispose of it, which unfortunately doesn’t include recycling. I have a standard black wheelie bin, and this is over half-full at the end of every 2 weeks. If they gave me half-sized bin, I would struggle to fit in all the non-recyclable plastics and other materials that can’t be collected from the kerbside, so families who are less scrupulous in their recycling habits would struggle a great deal more.
Manufacturers need to do more to reduce the use of non-recyclables, but until they do, I really don’t relish the thought of wading through all the fly-tipped waste that is bound to ensue when the new targets come into force!