Recycling is a win-win for the environment and the economy

Recycling is a success story – and one which Friends of the Earth and our supporters have been at the heart of since our first campaign to persuade Schweppes to take back used bottles in 1971.

Our guest writer is Julian Kirby, Resource Use campaigner at Friends of the Earth

Recycling often comes in for a bad press. Ironically, it is a subject which itself falls victim to an endless recycling of scare stories about ‘slop buckets’ and Byzantine systems of sorting.

And yet recycling is a success story – and one which Friends of the Earth and our supporters have been at the heart of since our first campaign to persuade Schweppes to take back used bottles in 1971. And it was in no small part thanks to the work of thousands of our activists that the 2003 Household Waste Recycling Act was passed and recycling facilities were brought to our doorsteps.

All this upward pressure – and more than a little political will to be fair – meant that recycling in the UK leapt up by 30 per cent in ten years. But that was from an abysmal start, and even now the UK only hovers around the average European Union rate. Wales and Scotland have recognised this and set themselves 70 per cent targets for 2025, but England and Northern Ireland seem content to do the minimum 50 per cent necessary by 2020 under EU law.

We’ve shown the cost of poor recycling before, in our 2009 Gone to Waste report revealing the at least £650million of recyclable materials the UK buries and burns every year.

Our new report – More jobs, less waste – shows how many jobs we could be throwing away as well. The report calculates that at least 51,400 new jobs would be created across the UK if we recycled 70 per cent of the waste collected on behalf of local authorities by 2025, about 25,000 more than if we only recycled 50 per cent of that waste.

And if we recycled 70 per cent of business waste as well we would create at least a further 18,800 jobs. Given that recycling creates around ten times more jobs per tonne than sending rubbish to landfill or incineration it would be economic as well as environmental madness not to show some genuine ambition in recycling. After all, the Flanders region of Belgium is already recycling well over 70 per cent of its waste. What are we waiting for?!

If the coalition is serious about being the ‘greenest government ever’ then they could easily bring about 75 per cent recycling by 2020, making up that extra distance by ensuring supermarkets stop selling products that can’t be recycled.

Recycling is a win-win for the environment and the economy. Recycling more of our waste simply requires political will. It’s time for more jobs, less waste.

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