Driving change beyond 2015: The way forward for waste

Written by: RWW | Published:

Waste and resource management beyond 2015 and the importance of reuse and quality recycling were some of the issues tackled at the CIWM and ESA conference last week with speakers calling for integrated policies, a clear roadmap and a reframing of the waste and resource debate. Geraldine Faulkner reports.

Resource minister Dan Rogerson MP reinforced the message of the government’s non-interventionist approach to the waste management sector by telling the CIWM and ESA conference there are no plans to intervene in the debate over refused derived fuel (RDF) and solid recovered fuel (SRF). “We’re not proposing an intervention to the market. We’ll have to look at the continuing investment but it’s not something we’re proposing to invervene in at the moment,” he said. 

When asked if Defra plans to change its mind over TEEP (technically, economically or environmentally practicability), the minister said: “The short answer is ‘no’ and that’s not changing. What has been encouraging is the work that has gone on in the sector. We’re not seeking to do a piece of work and that’s not going to change in the next few months of the coalition government. The proposals and best practice that are coming from the sector is a useful way of getting the message across to the sector.”

With regard to the circular economy, Rogerson also suggested there should be a movement away from focusing on targets. “At the European level, we would seek not to have a large amount of top down targets to push things that way. It’s not the approach we decided to take,” he said.

Instead, the minister reinforced the government’s commitment to tackling waste crime, citing new sentencing guidelines along with an extra £5m of government funding to be made available this year for enforcement.

Ditch waste

Another MP, Laura Sandys suggested the waste management sector should ditch the word ‘waste’. “You are in a modern industry, looking at waste in a different way,” she said before posing the rhetorical question: “Why are we designing waste in and not out? We have to become more effective. I don’t like the word ‘efficiency’ either. It’s a middle class term. We should be driving margins instead.”

With the focus on producing high quality recycling, waste management specialist DS Smith’s business development manager, Peter Clayson told the conference: “Producing consistently high quality recycling is essential to provide a continual feedstock to producers and manufacturers. But it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure this happens, from the manufacturer to the retailer, consumer and the recycling industry.”

Encouraging behavourial change with regard to increasing quality recycling and ensuring better communication with householders was also discussed at length with speakers emphasising the need to focus on incentives rather than on ‘punishments’ such as fines.

Jonathan Essex from the Green Party bemoaned the fact that behavourial change pilot scheme after pilot scheme seems to be necessary while “energy from waste schemes get the go-ahead”.  

Essex also stated he would “like to see leadership from the government instead of waiting to see what Scotland and Wales are going to do.” Sandys pointed out that “bad [waste collection] systems have been introduced and waste has upset people and [consequently] been politicised. Politicians are frightened of introducing unpopular schemes and losing the support of the electorate,” and fellow MP, Joan Walley suggested: “The Department for Communities and Local Government’s minister needs to be reined in.”

Channelling money back into waste

Speakers also deplored how money raised through waste such as the landfill tax and packaging recovery notes (PRNs) is not being channelled back into improving waste collection and recycling schemes.

“PRN money doesn’t flow back to local authorities,” said CD Group’s Paul Dumpleton who told delegates that with recycling rates having flat-lined and material prices edging back, it is important for waste regulations to have transparency. “If we are to raise the bar [in quality recycling] there needs to be total transparency and accountability throughout the chain,” stated Dumpleton.

A speaker who said he would not give many answers to the conference but would pose lots of questions was Ian McAulay, chief executive of Viridor 

“We work in an immature and evolving market where absolutes are the enemy of progress. Is incineration good or bad? It’s somewhere in the middle. It’s all about balance with leadership at all levels,” stated the chief executive who praised the work in Greater Manchester. “If you go to any of their facilities, you see leadership at all levels along with consumer buy-in.”

McAulay said that legislation and technology both have an important role to play in developing the industry and predicted that in future “our decisions will be based on the materials needed rather than areas that need collection. Legislation should be about outcomes rather than outputs.”

Evidence-based data

Measuring output requires evidence-based data. Linda Crichton, head of resource management at WRAP, said that along with better communications, there is also a need for better data.

“Local authorities can facilitate waste prevention and behavioural change by providing infrastructure and services, information, adopting and encouraging collaborative working and establishing outlets for reuse products,” said Crichton.

And no conference would be complete without local councils giving an update on the work they are carrying out in increasing their recycling rates.

Bassam Mahfouz from Ealing Council explained how, despite the cutbacks, the council has managed to do more with less. 

“With a budget of £80,000 to spend on communications, we came up with the idea of creating a giant Christmas tree made with 900 recycled plastic bottles. The tree was designed to make people think about how much we all consume and how items could be reused,” said Mahfouz. 

He also explained that with Southall [known as Little India] as part of Ealing Borough how Bollywood actors had been used in promotional materials and had helped push up the borough’s recycling rates.

Mahfouz advised the conference to “look for incremental changes with consistent clear messaging in whatever pictorials and language is appropriate.” 

Like other speakers, he reinforced the message that reuse should be as mainstream as recycling, although one delegate at the conference pointed out that “major waste companies do not take reuse seriously as they are more interested in getting stuff out of waste streams”.

Anomalies within the system

Phil Conran, director of 360 Environmental pointed to anomalies within the system. 

For instance, how railway sleepers can be used in creating raised flowerbeds, while someone was prosecuted for using discarded wooden pallets to build dog kennels. 

“He should have had a waste licence,” stated Conran.

“Regulations need to be designed for reuse and need to relate to risk and expectation with better enforcement,” said the consultant before calling for clearer regulatory guidance and, like so many other speakers, better communications.

Shadow minister’s view

Emphasising the importance of the waste and resource management sector in delivering economic growth and jobs, shadow minister Barry Gardiner MP said the sector is capable of acting as a ‘turbo-charger’ to support and drive growth across the wider economy and to leverage this potential, government should play a strategic, co-ordinating role and provide the framework to allow business to make its contribution, added the shadow minister.

Gardiner promised Labour would seek to ensure that the Green Investment Bank would have borrowing powers from April 2015, rather than the current 2018 deadline, and would also be tasked with carrying out an investigation into the barriers to investment. 

The shadow minister added that as part of a review of current recycling targets and policy, the impact of the higher targets set out in Scotland and Wales on investment would also be investigated. 

Roy Hathaway at ESA said: “ESA members will welcome Mr Gardiner’s recognition that government leadership is vital to making progress towards a more circular economy.”

CIWM chief executive Steve Lee added:
“We want to see these and other good ideas coming out of this conference translated into solid manifesto ambitions.” 

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