Pet Hate #1

In a recent edition of the Herefordshire Council's residents' magazine, there was an article on recycling. I think there is always an article on recycling, probably because we are, as a County, so bad at it. It included a useful summary of what can and cannot be recycled (see below), an item on reusable nappies (no longer relevant), a request for more people to compost (preaching to the converted) and some  information on Repair Cafes.

So far, so good. However, the introduction contained this paragraph:

'Each year the recycling companies we work with have to reject nearly 3000 tonnes of materials which are not recyclable through our recycling service. That's enough to fill over 250 bin lorries. This material cannot be processed for recycling, can slow down or block up the sorting machinery and ends up in landfill.'

Can you spot the bugbear and one of my pet hates? Although the paragraph contains some facts and figures, they are of little value without context. My first question? Is 3000 tonnes a big number or a small number? It would be so easy to provide this information: either by stating the total tonnage of material sent for recycling each year or to express the 3000 tonnes as a percentage of the total tonnage.

So it is off to the Herefordshire Council website and their Waste Managmemt page. Another disappointment as the waste & recycling data only covers 5 years up to 2018-2019. [Cue Freedom of Information (FoI) request sent to Herefordshire Council for more recent data]. Here are the data (in tonnes) summarised as a bar graph:

Tonnes of waste & recyclable material collected by Herefordshire Council

Over this 5-year period, the annual amounts of waste (~46,000 tonnes) and recyclables (~31,000 tonnes) are remarkably (and disappointingly) constant. Only 40% is recycled. And that is with a very simple household recycling scheme where all recyclables (see top of page) go into one bin (i.e. no sorting by the householder). Through the Council's roadside collection, I estimate my recycling rate is above 75%.

At least we now have the necessary context to put that figure of 3000 tonnes of recyclable material which is diverted to landfill because it has been contaminated with non-recyclables*. It represents about 9% of total recyclable material recovered via roadside collections and could increase the recycling rate from 40% to 44%.

*Main contaminants are black plastic, soft plastic (bread/carrier/freezer bags), cling film, nappies (ugh, if used), food (messy and so easy to compost), textiles and electrical goods (!? - small appliances, batteries and charging cables)

As an aside, I was surprised to see the contaminated recycling material was sent to landfill. Herefordshire shares a newish waste-to-energy incinerator with its neighbour, Worcestershire which opened in 2016. I am not a fan of incinerators (unless they come with carbon capture) but it may be a better option to landfill as long as the scrubbers and filters are working properly. It is a controversial topic and one I don't have time to cover in the post. The next bar graph summarises the % waste material (tonnes) sent to landfill over the 5-year period for which data are publically available on the Herefordshire County website.

% Waste sent to Landfill (tonnes)

Once again, we need more up-to-date information. [Cue Freedom of Information (FoI) request sent to Herefordshire Council for more recent data]. Why did the percentage going to landfill increase in 2018-19? Did this trend continue or was it a blip? Was more recyclable material going to landfill? Had the permitted capacity of the incinerator been reached? A permit to increase capacity from 200,000 tonnes to 230,000 tonnes was granted in 2019. I will update if I get any useful information from my FoI requests.

To summarise, one of my pet hates are sources (e.g. newspapers, BBC, local authorities, governments, the bloke you met in the pub) who provide information that is irrelevant and/or insufficient to support a position, viewpoint or argument. While, also, preventing you from making any rational judgement as to the validity of said position, viewpoint or argument. 


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