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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Targets 'hamper recycling effort'
Recycling bins
The public are being urged to recycle household waste
Government policy undermines efforts to improve the UK's recycling record, an environmental charity has said.

A report by Forum For The Future says national targets based on weight encourage recycling of heavy materials such as glass and newspapers.

Lighter materials such as aluminium are neglected and the report urges targets to be set according to which materials provide the most benefit.

The government says there is "no other sensible measurement system".

The study, carried out for liquid food packaging firm Tetra Pak, looked into why quantities of recycled packaging, such as plastic bottles, cartons and cans, were low in the UK.

Researchers found weight-based targets driven by the EU's packaging directive and implemented by the UK government were a key factor.

Exporting recovered bottles as far as China is not a sustainable solution
Jonathon Porritt
The report warns of a green glass bottle mountain in the UK, where there is an insufficient market for recycled glass.

In 2003, one in three recovered green glass bottles (100,000 tonnes) was being exported, it adds.

Meanwhile, the UK aluminium recycling industry needed to import the material from elsewhere in Europe in order to reach its capacity.

Landfill ban

Jonathon Porritt, programme director of Forum For The Future and chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, said the current policy framework was still sending the wrong signals to the market.

He said: "We welcome the new government campaign to make recycling more appealing to the public.

"But there is a strong risk of this good work being undermined if policy isn't rooted in a real understanding of sustainability and driven by the need to get maximum value from packaging materials with the lowest impact on the environment.

66% of UK-manufactured paper (Source: Waste Watch)
35% of glass packaging (Source: British Glass)
26% of all aluminium packaging (Source: Alupro)
5.5% of all plastic bottles (Source: Recoup)

"Exporting recovered bottles as far as China is not a sustainable solution."

Mike Ansell, managing director of Tetra Pak UK, said it was "madness" for targets to drive recycling of material for which there is no market in the UK and not encourage recycling for materials for which there was a good market.

He said: "Our cartons are made from a renewable resource - paper from well managed forests - and are extremely efficient as a form of packaging. We want them to be as easy to recycle in the UK as they are in many parts of Europe.

"But the rules are making this incredibly difficult to achieve."

In a statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) insisted the targets are "driving up the performance of local authorities".

The Defra statement read: "[The targets] are not material specific so that authorities have the freedom to determine the best approach in their area and to respond to the market for different recyclable materials.

"Latest figures on recycling show that the amounts of each material collected for recycling have all increased."

The report, entitled Wasted Opportunities, called for the UK to follow the example of other EU countries and introduce landfill bans for anything which could be recycled.

It also suggested expanding doorstep recycling schemes and allowing local authorities to charge residents according to how much waste they produced after sorting for recyclables.

It comes after the government launched a 10m campaign in September to encourage people to recycle household waste.

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
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