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1.0 Economics of Waste management in UK
a.1.) Metal and Electronic waste recycling
a.2.) Rise of global plastics
a.3.) Recycling of greenhouse gases
2.0 Barriers to Effective Recycling:
a.) Four Principal barriers to recycling at home according to WRAP
a.1.) Recent developments
b.) Economic Barriers
c.) Technical Barriers
3.0 Practical Considerations:
a.) Eliminating confusion in segregation and recycling
b.) Raising Awareness
4.0 Political Climate
a.) Sustainable Waste Management in UK under the EU Landfill Directive
b.) Issues requiring change:
b.1.) Legislative directive vs. Actual Implementation
b.2.) Moving towards a zero waste economy
5.0 The Waste Hierarchy
a) Current Waste Management State
Conclusions on the global stance of waste management in UK
In the natural world, nothing goes to waste. Waste, is nonexistent. Every morsel of a fox’s droppings is part and parcel of the intricate closed-loop system that is nature where the same could nourish a berry bush’s growth thereby providing food for birds which will then eat those berries and ultimately, the bird will, at some point, becomes a meal for the fox. Hence, every waste produced by nature is simply a resource waiting to be utilized by another organism (Szaky, 2015).
In England, the household recycling rate has shown a considerable improvement since 2008 with an increase of 43% from 35%. In Wales, only 54% of its current municipal waste gets recycled. However, an online panel survey on trends in attitude and self-reported behavior conducted by the Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) in 2011 revealed that 60% of residents in Wales claim that recycling is “very important” to them and even with the act requiring additional effort, 78% of people in Wales are shown to more likely recycle, a stark difference in comparison to its Scottish neighbor with only 51% of its populace labeling recycling as “very important.” (Defra, 2013).
This paper lays out the current situation of the waste recycling efforts in UK with an aim geared towards the analysis of its current challenges and opportunities and what solutions can be implemented to improve UK’s position in the European Union.
The Waste Framework Directive (2006) defines waste management as “the collection, transport, recovery and disposal of waste, including the supervision of such operations and the after-care of disposal sites, and including actions taken as a dealer or broker.”
According to a recent government-funded research conducted in 2011, the gate fee for landfilling falls somewhere between £73 and £127 per tonne while median fees paid for by local officials costs £85 per tonne as of 2012. For waste-to-energy plant installations, local authorities had to pay gate fees as high as £54 per tonne for facilities built before 2000 and £73 per tonne for those built after year 2000, respectively.
Additionally, Mechanical Biological Treatment plants (MBTs) has gate fees as high as £84 per tonne of waste. As for open air window composting, these sites costs an average of £24 per tonne while in-vessel composting and anaerobic digestion installations both had a rate of £43 per tonne.
Clearly, all these modalities of waste management pale in comparison with the average gate fee for recyclables of £9 per tonne or £26 per tonne at facilities of the same fiscal year. Without a doubt, recycling is the most economically viable method of waste management aside from prevention (Gate Fees Report, 2013).
Recycling is the process of transforming or converting waste materials into useful products. On a global scale, recycling is a titanic business once it involves large volumes of recovered solid waste material. As the worldwide population approaches the 9.6 billion mark by 2050, the availability of adequate material resources becomes highly crucial (Seegopaul, 2014). Intergenerational equity and justice dictates that we ensure a sustainable future of the generations to come. Imagine being able to access metals absent the need of going through strip mining, open-pit mining and other activities that injure the environment. These are all possible through recycling.
In a book written by Adam Minter, he posits that the turnover of recycled material annually is around $500 billion. In the chain of recycling, 6 basic steps play on a constant loop namely: collection, sorting, pre-processing, recovery, conversion and re-use. In the same book, Minter vividly documents how the process of sorting is done by waste management.
Metal recycling is a growing industry with recycling rates varying between >50% for elements like aluminum, iron and cobalt and less than 1% for its rare critical earths counterpart. Recycling metals and their alloys is a great opportunity to address the problem of mining, extraction and transformation processes which require a considerable amount of energy input and environmental burden (Seegopaul, 2014).
With the massive outpouring of electronic devices in a world heavily run by technology, recycling e-waste or electronic waste has also become the country’s major concern. Because billions of these wearable electronics and mobile devices have riddled the world at large, a recent report revealed that the US EPA has taken the electronics recycling challenge to new heights by partnering with major industry players as strategic partners like Samsung. Truly, the scrap heap with these fleeting devices is projected to grow even more over the next years to come—something that is worth noting especially upon reports showing that a single chip in your smartphone actually houses 60 elements (Ashkat, 2013).
Nowadays, social media has become the perpetual source of viral news and videos and very so often, videos of animals mistaking plastic for food circulates the online world with images of turtles stuck in 6-pack plastic rings or with a plastic straw up its nostril (Lee, 2015). Global plastic production continues to rise with an astonishing 288 million tonnes produced in 2013, covering thermoplastics and thermosets. The former are considered as recyclable forms of plastics while the latter, such as epoxies are not due to its complex cross-linked makeup (PlasticsEurope, 2013).
Currently, there are a number of diverse techniques that address recycling of greenhouse gases such as biological, thermochemical, electrochemical and photochemical methods. These major technological developments help convert methane, a potent greenhouse into energy and biologically into food (Calysta, 2016).
While the proportion of individuals who say that they have zero recycling efforts remain at a 3% margin since 2008, economic and technical barriers to effective recycling still continue to exist. Achieving the “complete recycler” status became an arduous process because these barriers continued to detract recyclers not only from participating but from optimally achieving their goals. In depth, the 2008 WRAP Model identified four (4) main barriers personal to the recycler in the form of situational barriers, behavioural barriers, knowledge barriers and attitude barriers. The first type are situational barriers. These could be due to lack of space, unreliable collection mechanisms, lack of access to bring sites or simply, inadequate amount of containers. The second type are behavioural barriers. These barriers could be in the form of individuals forgetting or failing to properly segregate their waste for collection, being caught up in a busy routine with recycling as the least of one’s concerns, or the failure to establish household schedule. The third type of personal barrier identified is the knowledge barrier. Here, people get confused about recycling from labeling to dealing with complicated recyclables. And finally, the last personal barrier is the attitude barrier. There is said to be an attitude barrier when an individual does not believe in the social or environmental benefit of recycling, or when a person views the task as purely the council’s job. Others simply refuse to recycle because of the lack of personal recognition or reward for their efforts.
While the four-category WRAP Barriers framework continues to be a robust and conceptually reliable representation of home-related barriers to recycling, a review of research reveals that practical research at a local scale coupled with the evolving social structure and recycling schemes of UK has paved way for further enhancements. For instance, attitude, behavioural and knowledge-related barriers to effective recycling have now been seen to be dependent or tethered to the practical circumstances of the person concerned. Thus, the type of property, collection system and life circumstances, in general, are all factors that influence the above-mentioned personal barriers (Defra, 2013).
Szaky, founder of TerraCycle Inc., argues that one of the greatest factors stopping humankind from recycling all human-generated waste is the economic barrier that colossally limits perceived recyclability. He posits that to recycle a material entails significant quantities to be collected of the same kind after which, the rigorous task of separation takes place where more often than not, multiple materials in the likes of multi-layered packages or containers with a wide array of plastic resins have to be sifted out. Thereafter, the material gets finally processed and recycled. The ultimate question as to the identification whether a material is recyclable or not rests on its economic costs. Thus, if the cost of the overall process weighs heavier than the resulting end-product’s worth in open market, then the material has a very slim chance of being classified as recyclable. At the end of the day, it is not science, but economics that plays a huge role in what we brand as non-recyclable.
Yet another significant barrier to modern recycling is the seeming lack of appropriate technology and infrastructure to recycle and process more rubbish. On a local scale, there is a wide disparity in recycling schemes and collection methods in a sense that collection programs are largely varied, with some accepting nearly all forms of materials while others, only a select few. Furthermore, with the current segregation mechanisms employed in our current recycling infrastructure, processing some materials are still unarguably time-consuming and difficult. For example, the birth of biodegradable plastics or bioplastics is undoubtedly, a revolutionary move towards environmental sustainability. However, the want of processors capable of recycling the same is posing another concern as to its existence.
Furthermore, it is of also of paramount importance to discuss the vague process employed in sorting out these recyclables. As discussed in the household barriers above, a lot of people don’t recycle because they don’t fully comprehend the process of segregation, labeling and what-not.
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