Tim Hughes: First up, we're going to hear from Julie Hill from WRAP, who's going to talk to us about waste recovery and recycling. So over to you, Julie.
Julie Hill: Okay. Thank you very much indeed. Good afternoon, everyone. It's a huge honour to be part of this really important process, and I want to say thank you to all of you for being part of this. And I'm really looking forward to your questions when we come around the table. So I'm Julie, I'm from something called WRAP, which stands for the Waste and Resources Action Programme, with the emphasis on the action. We're a non-profit organisation, a charity, we've got around 200 people working with us. We work in 26 countries and we are a big provider of the evidence and data underpinning a lot of things to do with waste, circular economy, waste recovery and all the topics you've been hearing about so far this afternoon. And we're also the people behind campaigns such as ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ and ‘Recycle Now’, and ‘Love Your Clothes’, if any of you have come across those. And we do a lot of bringing together. So thinking back to that triangle you've been shown, we do a lot of bringing together of government, business and citizens to get solutions.#
So my job today is to talk to you about everything to do with recycling. And the question you may have in your mind after the presentations you heard earlier, or at least a question I'm going to aim to answer, is: ‘in the scheme of things, how important is recycling’? So I'm going to say a bit about that. Very quickly to start with - don't worry about the detail of this - this is really just an illustration of all the different kinds of things that are in our household waste bin. But there's an important thing to get hold of about two different types of waste. The first is waste that rots. So if you left it in a pile, it would degenerate into a smelly mess. So that's the food waste, garden waste, paper and wood, of course, will eventually rot, and some kinds of textiles. And then the other main kind of waste is the stuff that most definitely does not rot, which is plastic, metal, and glass. So those are the things in our bins, and that difference between those two things is important in terms of what we can do with waste. But it's also important just to note that what's in our bins on a household level, is only about 12% of UK overall waste, which is that enormous tonnage on the slide, and of all of that only about half gets recycled in any way. So there's a lot of waste. Most of it's not ours personally and only about half gets recycled.#
One of the things I've always found fascinating about this field (and I've been working in this field quite a long time), is compared to the complexity of all our stuff, (and I’m going to use stuff as a shorthand for what we buy, the things we’re talking about this afternoon) – so if we think about our clothing, this hotel, the train we came on, whatever it is - huge variety and complexity - and yet when we're fed up with that stuff, when we've got no more use for it, there aren't many things we can do with it. So we can bury it - that's putting it in a landfill site. We can burn it - we put it in a thing equivalent to a giant boiler and set fire to it, and from that we can get some energy, some electricity. The picture above is another variant of energy from waste, the degradable, or biodegradable, the ‘rotable’ part of it, if you like. So I don't know how many people compost at home, but if you compost at home, your food and garden waste will rot down into something you can put back on the garden. That picture is kind of an industrial huge scale equivalent. So it's a giant compost heap, in a giant tin can. And by putting it in the tin can it biodegrades, it rots down without oxygen, and it produces methane gas. But that's captured, and that's used for energy. So that's a useful thing to do.#
And then the bottom right picture is a recycling plant that's a picking plant. Most of the sorting of what's in our bins, so whatever you put in your recycling bin and the local authority takes away, will go to be sorted into the different materials with the idea that the paper goes back to being made into paper. The glass goes back to glass. The metal goes back to metal, plastic to plastic and so forth. But first, it has to be sorted, so will go through a plant where most of that is done by machinery, is just that the photograph with people was just slightly more interesting. So most of that is not done by people, it's done by machinery. But in some cases you may have a system where the materials are collected separately from your doorstep and they will go straight back to the factory to be made back into what they were before.#
The next slide is just to show you the different proportions of what the different countries in the UK are managing in terms of recycling as against energy recovery or still dependence on landfills. And the differences between those are largely do with policy, which Libby will talk about later on.#
This slide again, the detail of this diagram doesn't matter so much. It's just a picture - you've heard that term circular economy, which is really about how much of all this stuff that comes into economy we manage to hang on to in some useful way, and all you need to note of that is the big bar across the top is all that stuff coming in, and the green, the thin green line going back - is what we manage to recycle. Certainly in 2010 it was a bit less than it is now, and now it's probably still less than half. So we're not very good at keeping stuff in the economy. That's important.#
So just thinking about recycling. You've heard from Nicole about reuse options, but just thinking about recycling, what can we achieve? Well, we can save some greenhouse gas emissions, especially if, as Nicole said, we have pre-loved things that replace new, if we have recycled things that replace new, then, of course, we're lowering the overall consumption and that will save greenhouse gas emissions and also water and the materials that they’re made of. (and water is an important component of our consumption). It avoids getting the worst of the biodegradable waste. Now, when I was talking about the giant compost heap in the giant tin can, rotting it down and capturing the methane, the landfill option for rottable waste also does almost exactly the same thing, because landfills tend to be, as they are capped, they don't have the oxygen that you'd have in a home compost heap to make it into nice compost. It turns into very nasty stuff. And the anaerobic digestion element will capture that methane, but in a landfill, it may not be captured. Some can be captured, but most of it will come out through the cap of the landfill and dispersed to the atmosphere. And the problem with that is that methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So landfill is the worst option in many ways because not only are you not doing anything useful with the material, you're potentially generating a very powerful greenhouse gas at the same time. Also the benefit is that because there is a landfill tax (and again Libby will talk more about taxation and options) It's now expensive for anyone to send anything to landfill.#
And we can save carbon with recycling. If we recycled all those things really well to the maximum extent we can, and we sent our food waste and rottable waste to the anaerobic digestion option, we could be looking at something equivalent about 10% of aviation emissions. And I think from your charts from your first session aviation is down as about 8% of total UK emissions, so it's not huge, but it's not insignificant. And it is definitely a reduction worth having. Are there downsides to recycling? I'm not going to dwell on this for reasons of time, you'll have it in front of you, but these are the kind of things people feel about it. We've got to sort it all out. You know, that could be confusing, got to find the space. But the point about energy, it does save. Recycling overwhelmingly saves more energy than it takes. So it is worthwhile from that point of view.#
There have been concerns about exporting plastics which aren't recycled well in other countries. That's a question of control. But most importantly, and this is the answer to my initial question: is it worthwhile to recycle? It is - but it's not as good as what you heard about earlier, about lowering consumption in the first place, and reuse. We can illustrate that very simply, for instance, with electrical equipment, so that could be about phones, washing machines, that you get a way bigger carbon benefit from reusing, so keeping it whole, not going through that reprocessing process, than from recycling.#
So much better not to waste in the first place. I know you're doing food separately, and I'm sure you'll do food waste. But actually, food waste is responsible for a great deal of carbon emissions and even halving what we waste currently, the food we currently waste in the UK, will give a bigger hit than that optimum recycling. So that's important. I won't dwell on the energy from waste points, again, you’ve got that in front of you. But these are the kinds of things people say about energy from waste. By burning it, we're losing quite a lot. But while we're not really designing well for recycling, that might be an option we have to use for the near future.#
And finally, just as summary, this slide. Again, the detail of this you've got if you need it. But the basic picture just says, if you want to tick all the boxes of the benefits: greenhouse gas reduction, and other things, the less stuff, especially less food waste, is by far the best option and landfill is the worst. And everything else sits somewhere in between. And so I suppose if I wanted to leave you with three thoughts it would be that, yes recycling is worthwhile, we should all do it. We could all do it better, but it's not as good as the reuse and waste prevention option, and If you want to do one immediate thing, think about food waste. Thank you very much.
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