The result is to add costs to recycling for already hard-pressed manufacturers, and potentially depress recycling rates, the Engineering Employers' Federation said on Wednesday.
Gareth Stace, head of climate and environment at EEF, said small companies were often badly served by the commercial waste management sector, which charges high prices. "Waste management companies are not interested in offering affordable services for small amounts of residual waste that manufacturers manage to segregate from their waste streams, such as paper, cardboard and food waste," he said.
While recycling rates have been improving among consumers and businesses, more must be done to meet European Union targets and avoid heavy fines.
Companies that do recycle their waste effectively are also not having their efforts counted, the EEF claims, because when materials are reused rather than put through a formal destruction and recycling process, that is not always counted as recycling. As a result, the true level of recycling among manufacturing businesses in the UK is likely to be under-represented.
The EEF wants government to improve manufacturers' access to local authority waste recycling facilities, and to improve measurement and awareness of the UK's national recycling goals.
EU waste 'hierarchy'
The organisation's report comes as a new EU waste framework directive comes into force, requiring companies to consider a "waste hierarchy" in disposing of their unwanted materials. This means companies must try to use raw materials more efficiently, reuse materials where they can and strive to recycle materials that may have a significant value but are difficult to extract from waste.
Many companies have already begun treating waste in this manner, but what has until now been a voluntary action has been turned into a legal obligation, although many companies are still unaware that it applies to them.
Research shows that British manufacturers have a track record of improving their recycling rates in recent years, with the amount of waste produced by the sector down by about 23% between 2002 and 2009, and the amount of waste sent to landfill cut even further, by about 43%.
Stace said: "Waste has been a tough nut to crack and this new requirement should act as a wake-up call for both manufacturers and government. Manufacturers have already taken significant action as they have long recognised that it makes good business sense to cut out waste from their operations. However, recovery and recycling have now reached a mature stage within company operations and industry can only make further progress if government unlocks barriers created by lack of investment in infrastructure. Now is the time for government to make a big leap forward and shake up this stagnant area of policy."
He called for a clearer regulatory framework from the government, as well as help in accessing local authorities' recycling facilities. He also accused the government of having done little to raise awareness of the new waste treatment requirements among manufacturers.
As much as a quarter of waste currently sent to landfill by businesses and consumers might be recoverable, according to estimates. This represents a potential resource that is being neglected by local government and companies, say green campaigners. The UK must invest billions of pounds in facilities to recover this waste if EU targets are to be met, but if the waste is recycled effectively, this cost is likely to be outweighed by the benefits, the campaigners say.