Council’s Decision To Stop Recycling Plastic “Regressive”, Says Coffey

Minister for Resources, Dr Therese Coffey has written to Swindon Borough Council to ask it to “reflect carefully” on its recently-announced plan to temporarily stop recycling plastic.

The council announced last month that due to plastic “not being recycled properly”, it intends to temporarily send the material for energy recovery.

This would mean residents would dispose of their plastic in the residual waste along with non-recyclable material.

The measure, which has been announced as “temporary”, is due to unrecyclable plastic finding its way into the plastic collections, the council says. The council says it has no way of distinguishing recyclable from non-recyclable and that the countries taking this material are now “closing their doors to plastic”, according to Councillor Maureen Penny.

At the time, The Recycling Association’s Simon Ellin said this was “absolutely the wrong way to go”.

He said: “We don’t have enough capacity in the UK and we do have to export a lot of our materials but if you collect it properly – and Swindon haven’t – than you have unlimited markets,” he said.

“If you don’t do it properly and you jumble it all together than you’re not going to find a market. Swindon haven’t done it properly.”

Dr Therese Coffey – “While I understand your concerns about the uncertainty on what happens to recycling once exported, this would suggest the need for clearer communications about the end destination of exported plastics rather than stopping certain kerbside collections completely.”

In response, Defra’s Dr Therese Coffey has labelled the move “regressive and concerning”, according to BBC News.

In a letter to the council’s cabinet member for the environment, Ms Coffey wrote that she was “concerned” about the impact the decision would have on “future householder engagement”.

“I find the new plan the council proposes to drop plastic waste for recycling concerning,” she said. “This is surely a regressive step.”

She said the government was “committed” to increasing the amount of waste recycled and did not want local authorities to withdraw services “even temporarily”.

“While I understand your concerns about the uncertainty on what happens to recycling once exported, this would suggest the need for clearer communications about the end destination of exported plastics rather than stopping certain kerbside collections completely.”

In response, Councillor Maureen Penny said “no decisions” had been made with regard to how the council deals with its plastic waste.

“Our wider strategy on how we deal with all our waste will be considered at next month’s cabinet meeting,” she said.


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  1. This government that is supposed to be on the side of free market and entrepreneurial activity should hang its head in shame that it is not leading in the race to build capacity to gain a global market share in the US$trillion circular economy. The council I assume has no option for the plastic other than Waste 2 Energy (very sensible albeit short term measure). The alternative is a trading system contaminated by rogue traders that utilise government policies/payments that is polluting land and marine environments in developing countries – with a major adverse impact on health and biodiversity and bans already put in place by China, Vietnam and Other Far East nations (This does show the level of corruption and poor quality). That’s two major criticisms of Dr Coffey’s response – Minister for What? Resources! (What’s the policy again?: Out of sight, out of mind, out in our seas and oceans and on our beaches).

    • A very sensible and constructive commentary Paul. My only addition would be to recognise that householders have little clue about what plastics can and can’t be recycled.
      And of course most of the plastics in our oceans are due to 2 billion of the world’s population not having an organised waste collection/disposal service.
      But if we had some fiscal intervention and gave waste plastics an inherent value, a lot of this problem would disappear.

  2. Doesn’t Swindon own the plant that makes the fuel? Surely it’s maximising its revenue stream here by utilising the plastic it collects rather than paying gate fees to tip it at a MRF who would then sell it on?
    In these times of shrinking council budgets any scheme that not only helps deal with our growing waste crisis and generates revenue for council services is surely a good thing?

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