May 2015

Express Group Withdraws Mistaken Recycling “Scandal” Claims

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The Express Group has accepted that two of its titles’ stories regarding a recycling “scandal” in the UK contained significant errors. As a result of a complaint received from Peter Jones, Senior Consultant at Eunomia Research & Consulting, one of the articles has been substantially amended, while another has been withdrawn entirely.

In the stories, published in January, the Express described the 280,000 tonnes of material rejected from the recycling system as a “scandal” without giving context to the figure – set against the 10m tonnes of household recycling collected, the national reject rate is just 2.7%.

Both articles suggested that the reason for there being contamination in the recycling stream is that householders are confused about what can and cannot be recycled, due to having to sort recycling into multiple containers. Yet this is inconsistent with the evidence of the recycling statistics that the newspapers relied on, which show that the highest level of rejects is recorded by authorities with single or two stream collections. One of the articles highlighted the multi-container recycling system in Newcastle under Lyme as an example of excessive complexity – yet the authority achieves a reject rate of zero.

Further, the articles put forward the view that the material that is rejected is recyclable, and results from whole truckloads of recycling being turned away from reprocessors. In fact, most rejects arise quite properly from the sorting process at MRFs, where non-target material is separated from mixed recycling.

The articles also made several other unsubstantiated claims. It was asserted that the material that is rejected for recycling is sent for landfill. In fact, it is at least as common that rejected material is sent for incineration to generate energy from waste. The Express claimed that there are only “one or two” MRFs in the UK, and that “scare stories by green activists has all but put paid to the construction of waste incinerators”. Both of these claims were withdrawn.

The complaints process took approximately three months, and numerous letters and e-mails to resolve, but the Express eventually made the changes without the need for the Independent Press Standards Organisation to become formally involved.

Writing in the Isonomia blog today, Peter said, “This is another example of recycling getting a negative press based on preconceptions and misunderstandings rather than facts.”

He explained that, although one of the stories had been withdrawn, many claims refuted and the 280,000 tonnes figure set in context, it had not been possible to get the Express to agree that the reject rate was not a “scandal”.

He added: “I couldn’t get them to ditch the headline, and my past experience of IPSO suggests that they’d be unlikely to rule that a newspaper wasn’t entitled to call a particular state of affairs a “scandal”, particularly if the facts are presented in the article.”

Peter has previously managed to persuade the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail to withdraw or amend erroneous articles about waste and recycling.