The economic opportunities associated with waste and secondary materials and how these should be maximised and shared across the sector emerged as a key theme at this year’s CIWM Conference in partnership with ESA.
Opening the first day, Professor Paul Ekins of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources emphasised the concept of ‘circular economics’ is not new, but welcomed the fact that theory is becoming reality. He spoke of the need to move to a model where economic outcome is not the only priority and outlined the role EU legislation has played in moving the sustainable waste and resource agenda forward, reminding delegates this has been a key benefit of EU membership. He praised recent efforts made within the industry, with particular reference to Scotland, saying that “achieving zero waste is no longer just an academic rhetoric as perhaps it was 20 years ago; it can now be seen as a realistic ambition.”
Making a point that would be echoed by other speakers, he added ‘pay as you throw’ remains, in his opinion, the most direct route to push progress on waste prevention.
Chairing the ‘Question Time’ debate, ESA chairman David Palmer-Jones, said the circular economy is now impossible to ignore and that “we can no longer design products without first thinking of the way they can be dismantled.”
Forum for the Future’s Sally Uren focused on the need to develop structures and systems to help map and manage the change process and avoid unintended consequences. She talked of the importance of new business models and more leadership, adding that policy is important but “policy interventions don’t work well when we are thinking of pioneering practice; we need it further up the change curve.”
Stuart Greig, Head of Zero Waste Policy for Scottish Government, echoed the need for new business models, coupled with a ‘cradle to cradle’ design approach. He said every part in the circle had to see a benefit and picking up on this point, Joss Tantram of Terrafiniti LLP said we need to develop a better understanding of the difference between ‘price’ and ‘value’.
Dr Forbes McDougall of Procter & Gamble said a change in mindset is necessary and also less complexity around end-of-waste legislation and Kent Waste Partnership’s Paul Vanston rounded off the debate with his wish list, which included better waste data, a stronger focus on the desired end destination of recovered materials and the question of export, more partnership working and a stronger commitment to eliminating landfill.
The future of Producer Responsibility session that followed saw Mark Dempsey from Hewlett-Packard exploring the role of competitiveness in the compliance market, and an update on developments from Chris Pook, Deputy Director for Green Economy at BIS. Pook said BIS recognises the need to reduce the burden on businesses but at the same time ensure that legislation continues to deliver the right environmental outcomes. Director of 360 Environmental Phil Conran analysed the performance to date of Producer Responsibility legislation: while it has driven some positive change it is not perfect and there is “little evidence that there has been much change in environmental design.” Quoting the impact of energy labelling, Karl Edsjö of Electrolux said that legislation can drive product design but “the requirements should be relevant, measurable and not too complex”.
Resource minister Lord de Mauley outlined his ambitions for the future of waste and recycling. He said: “We all need to improve our understanding of how to prevent waste, and the recent call for evidence should help us greatly with that. We must also help the public to maximise reuse and recycling, and ensure that avoiding contamination is much easier.”
He added: “I believe there is a real opportunity to drive growth and improve the environment in a more circular economy. Everyone – governments, industry, communities and civil society organisations – has a stake in making this happen and I am confident that people want to do the right thing. It is a question of making it easy for them, and of setting the conditions to allow the market, businesses and people to effect the change necessary.”
The twin challenges of waste prevention and food waste were the theme for the first afternoon, with green designer Rob Holdway reporting that 80% of the environmental impact of a product is determined at the concept stage and so “we must continue to use environmental science to guide decision making in design”. Mark Cook of REalliance added that prevention and re-use should not just be measured in environmental and financial benefits but also social justice and wellbeing.
The hot topic of food waste ensured a lively final session, with Lord Deben calling for two critical actions: banning food waste to landfill and ensuring that all local authorities introduce separated food collections. Chief executive of the Hospitality Institute Peter Ducker noted that one in six of all meals served in the UK come from the hospitality sector, putting restaurants and hotels right at the heart of changing consumer behaviour.
Opening the second day, Shadow Secretary of State Mary Creagh emphasised the need for government leadership on waste and resources, which she said is currently lacking. She said a stable policy environment is needed to encourage investment certainty and help drive a green and sustainable economy with resources at its centre. She emphasised the focus on keeping waste within the UK rather than relying on global markets and the need to reconsider a PRN system that encourages the export of poor quality recyclate.
After a lively session on energy, the session on public perception and communication provided a wealth of different perspectives, including the tendency of the sector to go into defence mode when negative stories appear in the national press.
Debate on future waste policy rounded off the conference. This included an update on the review of waste legislation at EU level from the Commission’s Head of Waste Management Julio Garcia-Burgues. He said: “The main challenge for us in conducting this review will be to find a balance between ambition and reality.” Announcing that he will be taking on a different role imminently, Defra’s Colin Church also confirmed that Government will soon be consulting on the National Waste Prevention Plan and reminded the audience that the current climate means that all the players in the sector will have to play their part if we are to move the waste and resource agenda forward.
Mike Jones, chair of the LGA’s Environment & Housing Board, presented the LGA’s recent waste policy review and called for measures to ensure that local authorities benefit more from the value of the resources they help recover. FFC Group Development Director Richard Bellfield responded that for this to happen, local authorities needed to share the risk that comes with volatile markets and a challenging investment climate: “We cannot afford to invest in facilities on the basis of the current risk share platform.”
More information and the results of the audience votes can be found at www.ciwm.co.uk