UK Prime Minister's advisor hails recycling as climate change action

The Prime Minister’s “green guru”, Sir Jonathon Porritt, has championed the contribution of recycling to UK action on climate change.

While last week’s Stern Review may have suggested government priorities should lie with energy concerns in the battle against climate change, Sir Jonathan said this morning that the importance of recycling should not be overlooked.

We should be defensive about the contribution of recycling to combating climate change. - Sir Jonathon Porritt Sir Jonathon, who was appointed by Tony Blair to lead the independent Sustainable Development Commission six years ago, said: “Some people still don’t get the connection between climate change and recycling.”

He cited research that suggested that the UK recycling sector is achieving emission cuts equivalent to taking 3.5 million cars off the roads.

He said: “Studies show that recycling offers more environmental benefits and lower impacts than other waste management options. The results are clear and positive for recycling, it delivers between 10 to 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emission cuts compared to the current mix of landfill and energy-from-waste.”

Addressing the WRAP-organised MRF Symposium in central London, Sir Jonathon said it was “appropriate” for government to be looking to increase current recycling targets in the English waste strategy review.

Press reports
The former Green Party chairman and Friends of the Earth director also called for a stronger defence for recycling against press reports casting a negative light on the benefits of recycling waste.

He said: “Pub talk will often have us believe that local authorities go to enormous lengths to collect separated recyclable waste from households only to go and dump it in landfill. The other apocryphal story we have is Mr Jones, who drives 62 miles to drop a bottle in a bottle bank and thereby causes the climate to change. But this is not the standard case in the UK.”

“We should be defensive about the contribution of recycling to combating climate change,” Sir Jonathon added.

Nevertheless, he suggested the recycling sector has lessons to teach the government in engaging with householders to change their environmental behaviour in areas like energy efficiency.

Within a panel discussion at the event, the senior Defra official Neil Thornton revealed that discussions with environment secretary David Miliband have highlighted the contribution of recycling to Mr Miliband’s new “carbon agenda”.

Mr Thornton, Defra’s director of environment quality and waste, said: “I have had some debate with David Miliband about the carbonification of the waste strategy. Carbon means we can be less apologetic about the Landfill Directive drivers – because they were originally set based on methane emissions.”

Commenting the day after the launch of Defra’s new residual waste treatment support unit for local authorities (see story), Sir Jonathon Porritt also attacked the government’s encouragement of “mass-burn” incineration within Private Finance Initiative waste contracts.

He demanded: “Who is going to take on the Treasury and get them to weed out the inherent idiocies in PFI contracts that restrict local authorities with the radical mix of new technologies available to them?”

But Mr Thornton said: “We have quite a bit of research on carbon impact of different waste management options.

“We see no conflict between higher rates of recycling and maximising levels of energy recovery for the material left over, because that has clear benefits of carbon-saving,” Mr Thornton added.

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