RWM 2018 roundup: new management nourishes show

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:
Despite pessimism, RWM 2018 proved to be a well-attended show

As soon as it was announced that RWM had been acquired by Prysm Group, tongues began wagging in the sector.

Despite its portfolio of environmental exhibitions, there was much scepticism about how much longer RWM could continue as a show following years of decreasing footfall and reduced exhibitor numbers.

I was pleasantly surprised to see, therefore, a different scene entirely when I visited the NEC last month. The show was bustling, with two halls of exhibitors, an outside demo area and plenty of small theatres and seminar stages.

Whether the show’s busyness was down to the fact it had decreased to just two days rather than a genuine increase in footfall is still up for debate, but it was reassuring to see so many fresh faces had turned how to support the industry.

Inevitably many discussions on the stands revolved around the upcoming Resources and Waste Strategy. What will it look like? What will it mean for the market? How will different sections of the value chain be able to work together?

Future strategy

Although unable to answer the fleshy details, Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh delivered an impassioned speech on the second day to a packed-out seminar theatre. She told visitors the strategy is now expected in November, following on from the Autumn Budget, which will undoubtedly include some form of single-use plastic tax.

The strategy, we were told, will feature five key principles: how to achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050, phasing out avoidable plastic waste by 2042, new targets for waste and recycling, how to stop food waste going to landfill by 2030, and reforming the PRN system.

At last, could the sector get legislation and targets it so desperately needs to head towards a circular economy? “The time for talk is over and time for action is now,” Creagh said. “I want the strategy to share costs of compliance away from taxpayer and to hopefully create secondary markets and cut down on waste crime.”

Creagh was less willing to answer RWW’s question regarding how the industry can work together to keep momentum and pressure up. “That’s a bad phrase at the minute and not my faction of the Labour Party,” she said, to sniggers across the crowd.

“We need to bring people with us and educate as much as possible. In the coming months we [the EAC] will be looking at the link between food poverty and waste and hunger.”

Carbon metric

So far there’s a reason for optimism, but when it comes to targets, many hope for an innovative approach. This was the theme of the Future Targets: Weight or Carbon panel. The topic, featured in August’s RWW, is growing in popularity as data mapping rises in prominence.

Given the Scottish government developed its own carbon metric in 2011, Michael Lenaghan from Zero Waste Scotland was more than well equipped to discuss its findings, namely that the metric allowed the nation to compare different types of recycling.

He said: “The carbon metric is publicly available and encourages anyone with waste data to look at waste from a different angle. It is not an either or [weight or carbon], but simply a way to allow us to have a different perspective.”

Fellow panellists were open to the idea of a metric, but stressed the importance of keeping it simple and communicating the message with the public.

SUEZ UK technical director Stuart Hayward-Higham said: “The problem we face is waste is more complicated than people imagine and this makes setting any messages quite difficult. Carbon could be useful as a metric but not necessarily what we should be using as a specific target.”

Though the panellists mainly agreed a metric could be beneficial, a tenser debate started following Lenaghan’s declaration that Energy from Waste is problematic from a climate change perspective. He said: “The grid is decarbonising quickly, and burning waste is adding emissions and not helping to decarbonise, compared with wind power.”

This raised the hackles of ESA’s executive director Jacob Hayler, who has long vouched for the vital role of Energy from Waste in diverting from landfill. Although he served as chair of the panel, Hayler couldn’t help but interject. “The waste we burn isn’t stuff we can send off for recycling, for every one tonne we divert, we conserve 200kg of CO2.”

His exacerbation was echoed earlier on in the day by Biffa CEO Ian Wakelin during the Leaders of Waste talk with SUEZ CEO David Palmer Jones. Wakelin said: “If we don’t have the right mix of waste infrastructure, we will sleep walk into a problem.

We have a deficit of Energy from Waste capacity; at the moment there’s 30 million tonnes that could be burnt but doesn’t because the facilities aren’t there. Without Energy from Waste we will end up with landfill more than we should. Why don’t we all admit it is a very important and credible role?”

Debates such as the role of Energy from Waste will inevitably always be an emotional subject for both the public and those within the industry. Not dissimilar then to the role of plastics, which was the subject of numerous RWM panels and discussions.

In How To Design A World Without Plastic, panellists were in agreement with the confusing message being passed on to the public of the role of plastics despite pressure coming from consumers.

Jessica Palalagi, head of waste management at Marks and Spencer, said: “It’s increasingly difficult for consumers to understand what can be recycled. Conundrum would be the world I would use. We are trying to find a language that works because saying things like ‘biopolymers’ is a snooze-fest.”

Deposit Return Scheme

When it comes to our single-use plastics addiction, one of the main solutions pitted is a deposit return scheme (DRS). With Scotland ploughing ahead with legislation and England on its tail, DRS was popular at this year’s show.

Eunomia launched what it claims to be the world’s first conference coffee cup scheme, where users could get a 25p discount on their hot drinks with a £1 deposit. Though the results are yet to be released, I spotted many visitors travelling around with Eunomia-branded cups, demonstrating at least a small cutdown on waste at the show.

Intricacies surrounding the DRS on a national level, however, are still yet to be agreed on. Adam Read, external affairs director at SUEZ, used his place on the DRS panel to echo SUEZ’s calls for an ‘on-the-go’ DRS. However, Eunomia’s Chris Sherring is yet to be convinced. He said: “This raises questions of how you can define something by how it’s consumed. On-the-go limits your ambition for what a DRS could achieve.”

David Barnes from Zero Waste Scotland, which is currently running a series of public DRS consultations, was also left unimpressed by the suggestion. He added: “Before we make our final decision we want people to have an input into it as it’s the individuals which make up the scheme. With all of the suggestions, none of them are on-the-go; I can’t reconcile something so limited in scope.”

It wasn’t just the policy details that were attracting big crowds, Reverse Vending Machine manufacturer TOMRA used the growing popularity of DRS to showcase its sorting machines.

Zak Miller, senior account manager at TOMRA Collection, said: “You only have to look at other countries like Norway and Germany to see how good DRS is. You’re talking high 90s as the percentage of people who are engaging with it.

“A lot of councils have approached us and said they don’t want to wait for government and want to drive it themselves. TOMRA are engaging in a government level and have a department to clear any unanswered questions.”

With promises of hefty legislation and the British public well on side, it seems as though critics of RWM may have spoken too soon. An industry in motion still needs a place to share best practice, debate and showcase new technology. RWM continues to offer the perfect space to do this.

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