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Householders currently recycle around 37 per cent of their waste

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Recycling best for everything except garden waste

Ecologist

17th March, 2010

Government urged to improve recycling facilities after review of waste options finds it has the smallest environmental footprint

Recycling has been confirmed as the most environmentally-friendly option for disposing of waste in an analysis of more than 200 studies by the Government waste watchdog.

WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) evaluated the impact on the environment of recycling, landfilling and incineration.

It also evaluated emerging technologies such as anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis, all of which process waste in the absence of air to create liquid or gas fuels.

As well as concluding that 'recycling offers more environmental benefits, and lower environmental impacts, than the other waste management options,' the review also said waste to energy disposal options such as anaerobic digestion should be given more consideration.

Recycling facilities

The calls for more recycling facilities follows a similar one made by MPs earlier this year urging the Government to set tougher recycling targets for householders of 50 per cent by 2015 and 60 per cent by 2020. They currently stand at 37 per cent.

MPs from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efracom) also urged local authorities to provide more information to householders about what happens to the waste they put out for recycling.

An Ecologist investigation last week revealed that local councils guidance on recycling was often incorrect.

The WRAP review analysed the different disposal options for six main materials, and concluded:

Paper and Cardboard

Landfill least preferable. Recycling preferable for energy demand and water consumption. More beneficial to recycle high quality products like office paper.

Plastics

Recycling best option. Landfill worst option. Energy recovery forms of incineration of plastics provide poor amounts of energy. Pyrolysis shows promise but has been analysed in just two studies so far.

Biopolymers

Although touted as a degradable material, composting is not the best option. Anaerobic digestion was shown in studies to provide more benefit, particularly in its ability to provide energy. Recycling was also shown to be preferential to composting.

Food and garden waste

Anaerobic digestion best option because of added benefit of energy produced and fossil fuels displaced. Composting has benefits for its use as alternative to fertilisers or peat. Incineration with energy recovery also performs well.

Wood

Incineration is seen as the best option for creating energy out of the wood waste. However, recycling has the potential to reduce deforestation. Landfill is to be avoided because of the associated methane emissions.

Textiles

Recycling best option but still a lack of studies looking into alternative forms of disposal and of better methods of 'closed loop' recycling whereby the recovered fibres are used in manufacture of new clothing.

Useful links

WRAP report: Environmental benefits of recycling – 2010 update

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