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Renewi urges government to give clarity over UK waste reforms, after recent report reveals the economy is only 7.5% circular

04 May 2023

Renewi, the leading European waste-to-product company, has again urged the UK government to provide clarity over its waste policy reforms, after the recently published Circularity Gap Report (CGR) revealed the UK economy is just 7.5% circular. Renewi is a leader in recycling in the Benelux region where circularity is 24.5% in the Netherlands and 23.5% in Belgium. It would like to bring more recycling expertise to the UK, where it already operates six PFI (Private Finance Initiative) contracts for local councils.  

Renewi UK’s Managing Director, James Priestley, said: “The report’s findings are a stark reminder we urgently need clarification from the Government on the final shape of its waste and recycling proposals. The simple fact is, the UK produces too much waste - 15.3 tonnes per person each year – but we don’t recycle enough of it.  

“Of all the materials that flow through the UK’s economy, just 7.5% are reused - that is a circularity gap of more than 92%. This disparity is partly explained by a lack of domestic recycling infrastructure and is a sustainability challenge the country must overcome. The recycling industry has the potential to be an important part of the solution, but that must be supported by new legislation and a clear mandate.”  

The proposed and long-awaited reforms include a comprehensive, consistent waste collection service across England. However, the government has yet to clarify what they will look like, and an announcement has been repeatedly delayed.  

Mr Priestley added: “An important part of the proposed, wide-ranging waste policy reforms we are expecting is consistent collection, which we fully support. The current approach is fragmented, which has impeded investment in an efficient infrastructure, with different technologies deployed in different parts of the country. Unsurprisingly, this means lower recycling rates and higher carbon emissions for the UK.”  

Renewi operates sites at 24 locations throughout the UK and recycles 40% of the residual (black bag) waste it handles. But in the Benelux, it is a market leader, with an industry-leading recycling rate of 68% across a broad range of materials, putting 8m tonnes of low carbon secondary materials back into reuse.  

In the Netherlands, the company is an important contributor to the country’s 24.5% circularity. In Belgium, after the government in Flanders introduced new and updated legislation which stimulated increased recycling by introducing mandatory pre-sorting of waste into 24 streams, Renewi invested €20 million in a new high-tech and state-of-the-art sorting line which it opened just last week.  

The company would like to bring more of this recycling expertise to the UK but is unable to do so without the regulatory framework.

Mr Priestley explained: “As the CGR recommends, we must have a level playing field through a fit-for-purpose policy framework for waste collection in this country. We wholeheartedly support increased separation by households as in the more advanced recycling economies. We think it is essential to have separate collection of kitchen food waste across the country, as this otherwise contaminates other waste collected within the dry recyclate and residual waste streams.”  

Landfilled food waste is the largest contributor to total CO2 emissions in the UK, which produces around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste annually, 70% of which is considered avoidable. Of this, 70% is created by UK households and 14% of all food bought – 15 billion meals – ends as food waste.

Mr Priestley added: “Society supports this drive, and the UK government is committed to implementing policies to help make this happen. All that is needed now is clarity, a timeline, and legislation to support sensible policies that provide long-term certainty to be implemented, without further delay.  

“Renewi has the skills and ambition to play a leading role in delivering a net zero, circular economy, closing the circularity gap.”