Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The cost of waste....who pays?

Recycling Industry Plastic and Paper Bound for Shipment Ecology by Bill Bachmann
Recycling Industry Plastic and Paper Bound for Shipment Ecology

An interesting dilemma is posing itself, not imminently but in the near future with regards to the collection of waste paper products and other waste produced by retailers.

Councils are arguing that supermarkets should be paying for the cost of recycling the amount of waste produced probably in line with the Climate Change Levy that is being charged to businesses on their use of electricity in a bid to reduce waste products and encourage recycling. The reason for this outcry is probably because the amount of money they receive for the sourced product is lower than the cost of collecting this and therefore produces a negative cash flow in their accounts. Should this happen then is is likely that the costs of recycling will be added to the consumers food bill or the business tax rates charged by local councils.

As a business we donated our cardboard to a local charity who used to get paid for collecting the papers, adding useful funds to their efforts and building community. This was a win win situation for all concerned. As a result of the drop in the price of the waste paper as a resource, the paper mill was out of pocket and has now asked the charity to pay for the collection of the container at a cost of £ 30 per month. The charity have therefore decided not to continue with the collection which is understandable. It stands to lose the funds, the goodwill and the community building that resulted from its monthly collections.

I am guessing that the Councils are feeling the same pinch in their cash flow and want retailers to pick up the tab. If the cost of recycling waste exceeds the value as a recycled resource, it is likely that waste will be returned to landfill for which they have ever decreasing targets. This creates a problem that requires a solution.

The costs of recycling have to be met somewhere either by the supplier, the retailer or the consumer. There was a motion last year for consumers and households to pay per waste load on top of the money paid in the community charge for the collection of waste and recycling.

How can we make it add up?

Most products arrive in either a cardboard box or a cardboard tray then wrapped in plastic. The cardboard can be dealt with by recycling and would be preferable than bags and bags of plastic waste for which currently there is no recycling route.

Herein lies an opportunity.......and I see no immediate solution.

If we reduce food miles and consumption we also stand to reduce the amount of packaging that goes to waste. Alternatively, suppliers could produce plastic trays made from the plastic wraps that are returnable to the supplier so they can be reused. Is is possible to create a recycling loop within suppliers so that the waste products you receive as a retailer can be returned like empty milk bottles to your supplier? That would add to the miles the stuff needs to get transported.

How can we step back and downshift our waste products?


timx said...

Different local authorities have different approaches to the collection of recyclable waste. Those which are the most successful have an effective system for separating the different streams of waste - susually this separation is done by the householder. It is becoming increasingly clear that those authorities who produce 'good quality' waste continue to get a reasonable price for their product, whereas, where paper, for example, is contaminated with glass, as often happens, the price will be low. But in the end, we all have to reduce the amount of waste we produce (including food producers)and this could arise from a 're-localisation' of our supply systems. And don't forget that paper can be composted, and it can be used as fuel for energy!

Sally said...

Hi Anne,

I think my question would be, why do the supermarkets have to use so much packaging anyway? Some of it is a genuine effort to protect the product or to offer smaller portions. However, much of it is for promotional reasons. An alternative top down approach might be to legislate on the use of packaging in order to reduce the quantities used. A bottom up approach is in the hands of the consumer - we need to stop buying those kinds of goods and steer clear of the supermarkets. Sadly, the mistaken collective belief abounds that this will increase the cost of our weekly food bill. A recent report by the NEF however indicates that buying food from farmers markets cost the consumer less. Buying locally in this way also requires less packaging, simply because the responsibility for handling the products rests more with the consumer than the retailer/producer. There is also less of a requirement for packaging for promotion because the product is sold to us personally rather than remotely. So, when we reduce the food miles, we automatically reduce the packaging.


Anne said...

I agree with both your comments. My opportunity relates to the wholesale supplier who provides all goods in plastic wrapping and cardboard trays which is the waste generated at a business level before you even get to the items on the shelf.
As a business our fruit and vegetables, bread rolls etc are individually available with a choice of brown or white paper bags. We do not offer plastic bags but have our own ecobag, and biodegradable bags for those who do not arrive with a bag. When we purchase items for the shop we often choose glass and cans before plastic containers to reduce the impact further on the environment.
The prewaste generated by our business is more difficult to deal with if our current recycling route is cut off.We do try to match up people wanting boxes with the boxes we have available and still manage to fill a small roomful with the rest.

Shirl said...

I think also that the answer lies in less packaging. I'm gradually working towards zero use of supermarkets; but it isn't going to happen overnight.

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

I agree with sally, if at all possible we should steer clear of supermarkets, but if we have to use them then the best way to get over to them that excess packaging is not needed is to leave it with them if at all possible.

They may then get the message...

Anonymous said...

Tesco has recently started trials of a new scheme in two of its stores where shoppers can remove the excess packaging from their goods before they leave the store. The onus is on the shopper to spend the time doing it, which unfortunately is going to be the flaw in the plan.