Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Letter to David Miliband

To Rt Hon David Milliband MP, Environment Minister, UK Government

Dear Mr. Miliband,

I have been involved in reclaiming materials for reuse from demolition since the 1970's. In the past ten years it seems that the volume of material being reclaimed for reuse has been dropping, while recycling has been increasing. Reuse has traditionally been spearheaded by very small businesses. Recycling by very large ones. The reclaimed building material sector is comprised of several hundred small businesses who have no trade representation. The recently formed recycled wood sector with help from WRAP have benefited from subsidies and grants. As a result the amount of wood being reclaimed for reuse has dropped from 700,000 tonnes a year in 1998 (1998 BigREc Survey) to a much smaller figure today, possibly as little as 200,000 tonnes. We do not know the exact figure because Salvo cannot afford to undertake another major trade survey - Salvo is a two person business. Money is poured into subsidised wood recycling, which means mulching, composting and burning wood, a lot of which is highly sought after by the reclamation trade and which five years ago, before the subsidies, was being bought by them.

The reclaimed building materials sector has not been helped with any funding or subsidy, pays taxes and rates, and employs many thousands of people in low and high skilled work. As sources of UK materials dry up, due to recycling, the trade is going abroad to find materials to supply the healthy UK demand. For example, ten years ago the only reclaimed brick you could buy from a local salvage yard was one from a local demolition. Now the reclaimed brick sector are finding it very hard to get UK bricks from demolition so they are topping up supplies from around Europe and last month an Argentinian company was offering bricks from Argentina in the UK. This is not ideal when reclaimable UK bricks are being destroyed.

The embodied energy of the reclaimable materials now being destroyed by recycling is enough to run 10 million UK homes a year. But the true picture is worse because it takes a lot of additional energy to recycle the tens of millions of tonnes of materials that were being reclaimed. In effect, we would better off putting all reusable bricks into landfill whole, so that they can be mined and reclaimed in future, rather than crushing them. The UK makes 3 billion bricks a year and destroys about the same amount, and the reclaimed brick sector saves 150 million bricks for reuse. Ten years ago no bricks were crushed, now probably 3 billion a year are. Every 12 bricks embodies the energy equivalent of a gallon of petrol. So just in bricks we are destroying 4 Buncefields-worth of energy a year. Add up all the reusable materials and it comes to one Buncefield a week.

This year, at the Salvo fair, we are holding a construction professionals afternoon, where we will be launching a new book by Bill Addis on 'Building with Reclaimed', and a new product from Green Works of flooring from desktops, and to which journalists have been invited. We would be delighted if you could come and meet some of the trade. It is on the afternoon of Friday 30th June at Knebworth.

Yours sincerely,
Thornton Kay
Salvo Llp
Tel 020 8400 6222

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