Fall in recycling hits Suffolk’s ‘greenest county’ ambitions
Suffolk’s multimillion pound waste incinerator has been blamed for a reduction in recycling that is said to have harmed ambitions to become “the greenest county”.
New figures show Suffolk incinerates half of its waste – one of the highest rates in England – and people are also recycling less than they did four years ago.
Andrew Stringer, who leads the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group at Suffolk County Council, said: “Sadly, this is of no surprise to us.
“The Greens have argued all along that although better than landfill, incineration was still less environmentally friendly than other options. We also feared that recycling was likely to fall.
“Although we were promised that this would not happen, it appears to have been proven true.”
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Mr Stringer said over-stating the green credentials of Suffolk’s £180m energy-from-waste facility had led fewer people to recycle – as they wrongly believed all waste was disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner, regardless of which bin it went in.
According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 47% of waste was recycled in Suffolk in 2017, down from 51% four years previously.
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Meanwhile, Suffolk’s 50% rate of incinerated waste is far higher than the national average of 38%.
Although the incinerator, which opened at Great Blakenham, near Ipswich in 2014 and burns waste to make electricity, is said to be a cheaper, greener alternative to landfill, Mr Slinger said it was hard to reconcile the fall in recycling with Suffolk’s ambition to become the “greenest county”.
“In Suffolk we have the passion to be progressive and there are lots of forward thinking businesses and organisations, so we have a great opportunity to show the rest of the country and the world how it’s done,” he added.
“However, at the moment the ‘greenest county’ is looking more and more like a fig leaf.
“We need to see it go from an aspiration to implementation. If that means investment, trials and pilot schemes then that’s what we should be doing.”
Nationally, politicians are warning of an ‘incinerator boom’ which may be harmful to public health. A report launched in the House of Lords revealed harmful particles released by incinerators in England last year were equivalent to the emissions of more than 250,000 lorries travelling 75,000 miles per year.
Council committed to making recycling easier
Council chiefs say the energy from waste facility has created enough power for 42,000 homes and reduced equivalent carbon emissions by 75,000 tonnes a year.
Paul West, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for waste added that recycling rates remained high - and among the best in the country – thanks to “fantastic support” from residents.
Mr West acknowledged more could be done to improve recycle rates, including by better explaining what materials go in each bin to save on the £550,000 currently wasted each year on removing items from householders’ waste.
“We are also committed to making recycling and reusing goods easier for residents,” he added. “As recently as this month the county council’s Cabinet decided to invest £6 million to improve our recycling centres, while the new recycling centre at the West Suffolk Operational Hub is also under construction due to be completed by the end of 2019.”