According to a recent report in Politico (Europe Edition), the UK exports three million tonnes of its rubbish removal a year to other countries. This accounts for about ten percent of the UK’s total rubbish that is not recycled or reused. This includes rubbish removal that can be recycled but the UK does not currently have the capacity to do so.
Brexit could bring about hard borders and increased import tariffs that could make this massive export of UK rubbish removal financially difficult if not impossible. Unfortunately, this could have the effect of greatly increasing the amount of rubbish removal sent to UK’s landfills, including items that can be recycled. UK businesses may also increase prices to make up for increased tariffs.
This impending dilemma has brought about a heated debate. David Palmer-Jones, the CEO of SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK Ltd (formerly known as SITA UK Limited and Sitaclean Technology), is advocating that the UK government build more incineration plants to convert rubbish removal into energy. SUEZ is one of the biggest waste management companies in the UK having secured large contracts with local councils to clear rubbish. Therefore, their recommendations carry a lot of weight. However, on the other side of the issue, there are large groups of citizens and environmental groups who want to see more recycling and upcycling of rubbish removal instead of burning it for energy. These recycling advocates favor a strong move toward a circular economy in the UK.
So, who is right? Is either side completely wrong?
Burning trash to create steam energy that is then pumped into the grid as an alternative to fossil fuel is already being done on a large scale in countries like Denmark and Sweden. However, these same countries have the highest recycle and reuse rate in the entire world. In fact, they actually import rubbish removal from the UK to burn for energy since they do not produce enough non-recycled or reused waste streams on their own. So, it appears that one successful strategy is to recycle everything you possible can and then burn the small amount remaining for alternative energy.
Some sustainability experts and eco-conscious UK consumers are also concerned that Brexit will result in the UK not meeting the ambitious EU goals set on recycling. Currently, EU countries must find a way to recycle or reuse at least fifty percent of their rubbish by 2020 and sixty-five percent of their rubbish by 2030. There are already rumors that the UK will miss both marks, and will in fact, lower these expectations when Brexit is complete. Jean-Marc Boursier, in charge of recycling at Suez, said in an interview that he recommends lowering the EU recycling and reuse targets in favor of more incineration of rubbish removal.
On the other side of the issue, leaders in the Labour Party, like David Drew, do not favor more incineration. Instead, they favor more recycling and reuse, and moving the UK toward a circular economy such as the Scandinavian countries have. They would rather see alternative energy come from methods like solar energy and wind energy. Further, they believe that putting any time and resources toward the incineration of rubbish only takes away from this effort. This is sure to be a debate that becomes more heated as the increased financial burden from Brexit begins to take effect.
If you really stop to think about it, while burning rubbish for energy is better than letting it rot away in a landfill, incineration of rubbish is still part of a fossil fuel economy that we as a human race need to find a way to break away from. This is why Clearabee so strongly advocates for recycling and reusing rubbish as much as possible. In fact, Clearabee boasts a NINETY PERCENT recycle and reuse rate, the highest of any rubbish removal company in the UK, and one of the highest in the entire EU!
Beyond the reaches of Brexit, the UK sends a lot of its recyclable materials to countries outside the EU, such as China, to make products like glass. However, China may begin restricting this in the near future. So again, the UK may need to find an economical and manageable way to recycle and reuse more of it’s own rubbish removal without shipping it out of the country. In fact, it appears that there is currently a concerted move in the world to force every nation to find their own way, not that every nation can’t copy what works best in other nations, a lesson that the UK may need to learn the hard way.