by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) believes that recycling is too far through the life cycle of a product to deliver the kind of carbon savings that are required to meet the UK’s ambitious emissions reduction targets. The focus for waste management should be on resource efficiency, prevention and using waste as a resource.

From a sustainability point of view, concentration on recycling may be misplaced as it occurs too late to be of maximum benefit to the environment. Although recycling saves on the use of raw materials, the process uses energy and produces products of inferior quality compared to the primary product. Therefore, CIWEM believes that recycling is only part of the answer.

The statement of the CIWEM that recycling produces products of inferior quality compared to the primary product is only partly true, such as with plastics recycling. When iron and steel, aluminum and glass are recycled there it no reduction in quality.

However, in the case of glass it would be better if bottles and jars would be returned to the manufacturers to be refilled rather than be broken up and remade into glass containers (or other products).

The UK generates some 342 million tonnes of waste per annum so prevention represents the most effective way to reduce emissions as it reduces the consumption of raw materials and the need to expend further energy in managing the waste further down the line. Another element is recovery where waste serves a useful purpose by replacing other materials that would otherwise have been used to fulfill a particular function.

CIWEM calls for improvements to be made to the system to promote minimization of the production of waste, supported by a circular flow of resources and materials designed to facilitate reuse and recycling wherever possible. In circumstances where waste cannot be prevented, it must be viewed as a resource for potential use in other sectors, based around the carbon savings and energy value of the resource. The current regulatory regime often penalizes the beneficial use of waste, so CIWEM believes that regulation of waste recovery activities, such as energy from waste, should enable efficiency.

However, in a newly published Policy Position Statement, the Institution cautions against over committing to one sector when trying to reduce emissions: “It is important that a holistic and proportionate approach to reducing emissions across the economy is employed, reflecting the contribution that all sectors make to the total UK emissions and the savings that could be most readily achieved. In this context, there is a need to be sensible about the resources that are committed to reducing the greenhouse gases from waste management facilities. It may be a wiser use of resources to expend efforts on the reduction of the emissions from energy consumption and transport use (about 57 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions) where we may be able to make greater and quicker environmental savings more economically.”

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management ( CIWEM ) is an independent professional body and a registered charity, advancing the science and practice of water and environmental management for a clean, green and sustainable world

CIWEM’s newly published PPS on Waste and Climate Change can be downloaded from

Much of recycling should not happen, that is true, as reuse and upcycling would be much better than breaking the product down and then doing something else with the “raw material” thus created.

It is heartbreaking for me to see when we waste energy to create bottles from bottles and glass jars from glass jars. It does not make sense, especially in the light of the fact that glass can be reused ad infinitum by cleaning and sterilizing it.

Even wine bottles should be reused and refilled with the product they originally held but this is just something that no one seems to even be thinking about.

All the talk is about, time and again, is recycling by collecting and breaking, as in glass, the stuff up and the melting it again into glass. Plastic bottles are another kettle of fish and cannot be reused and thus should be recycled into other things or turned into energy.

© 2010