A new report by Biffa says there is a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity for the UK to make an £18 billion investment in dozens of new onshore recycling and energy facilities that will deliver the country’s ambitions for a net zero, circular economy.

Improving the recyclability of household packaging, banning plastic waste exports and increasing surplus food redistribution would also play key roles, the report from the sustainable waste and recycling firm says.

The move would unlock 43 million tonnes of circular raw materials annually to support sustainable manufacturing and consumption in the UK, Biffa says, creating 16,000 high-quality jobs, reducing carbon emissions by up to 7.1 million tonnes a year and improving domestic energy security.

The report, “From Waste Hierarchy to Carbon Hierarchy: Biffa’s Blueprint for Waste Net Zero”, says the UK’s waste sector has transformed from a landfill-dependent model to one prioritising recycling and energy recovery.

Too many materials are not designed for recyclability, and collections systems are often inconsistent and unclear.

In the report, Biffa called for several changes to policy. These included embracing the move from waste hierarchy to carbon hierarchy waste, driving more adoption of recycled plastics, considering a moratorium on more energy recovery facilities;

push for more action to phase out waste export, accepting that landfill will continue to play a role and championing a zero emissions, competitive collections market.

The report also recognises the “huge progress made”, with UK household waste to landfill falling by 50% from 2010 to 2020, and carbon emissions reducing by 69% from 1990, making the UK’s waste sector a stand-out contributor to carbon reduction. See how Greenzone are doing there bit here

In the report, Michael Topham, Biffa’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “Nonetheless, whilst this transition is to be celebrated, the task is nowhere near complete. The UK still produces too much waste and doesn’t recycle enough of it.

“After nearly two decades of success, recycling levels in the UK have plateaued at around 44%. Too many materials are not designed for recyclability, and collections systems are often inconsistent and unclear. And where we do recycle, we remain too dependent on export markets as an end destination for materials.”

Topham says the transformation can be achieved using “existing, proven technologies and processes, and that there is a vibrant, competitive, skilled sector with the access to the capital to make this happen”.

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