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Environment Agency chairman urges councils

to “hold their nerve” on recycling
Environment Agency Chairman, Lord Chris Smith, will today urge local authorities to “hold their nerve” and continue to invest in recycling services, despite recent downturns in the market for recycled materials.

Lord Smith will challenge councils that have recently decided to discontinue some of their recycling service to take a long-term view, identify new domestic markets for recycled materials and prevent a drop in support for recycling among residents.

Speaking to the Aldersgate Group, a coalition of environmentally-aware businesses and NGOs, in Westminster this evening Lord Smith will say that local authorities have a duty – both legally and morally – to reduce waste going to landfill sites and must do the right thing for the environment, despite the economic crisis.

His speech will say:

“Local authorities in England and Wales must hold their nerve. The collection, treatment and reprocessing capacity for recyclable waste in England and Wales must be retained and expanded if we are to meet our legal targets on landfill waste.

“There can be no return to the bad old days of sending too much waste to landfill. So it's vital that this economic slowdown does not jeopardise public confidence in recycling, particularly with Christmas approaching – which is always a crunch time for waste collection and recycling.

“We have clear and compelling evidence of the public's desire to recycle. Since the start of this decade, the amount of waste we send to landfill has reduced by 23% and we already recycle 30% of our household waste. These figures are improving every year and we need to build on this success. Local authorities that withdraw recycling schemes now risk reducing public confidence and support, which has taken years to build.”

Lord Smith will say the sudden and dramatic fall in demand for many recyclable materials from export markets such as China, had been the most visible environmental effect of the global economic downturn.

“Quality counts and standards must be maintained. Those operators that can maintain well-sorted, top-quality recyclable materials are more likely to find a market going forward.

“The Environment Agency has recently set out new guidance for operators to help them to minimise the impacts of this downturn, should they need to store waste in the short to medium term until markets recover. ”

And he will say that, in the long-term, the United Kingdom needed to have a more resilient domestic market for recyclable materials.

“We need to treat the security of materials and hard commodities the same way we treat the security of food and energy.

“Often, an economic downturn is the best time to identify investment opportunities. What the current market conditions do show us is that there is a gap in the market to deal with recyclable materials here is the UK.

“There is a legitimate export market for recyclable materials but it needs to be complimented with a resilient domestic recycling industry.”

Lord Smith will urge local authorities and the waste sector to embrace a three-point plan to protect recycling:

In the short-term – well-sorted, top-quality recyclable materials will be more likely to maintain a market.
In the medium-term – there is the need to identify and invest in new or innovative uses for our materials to divert even more waste from landfill.
In the long-term – we need to look at investing in more infrastructure to treat recyclable materials here in the UK, to avoid dependency on the export market.

For more information visit www.environment-agency.gov.uk.

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