Visions of a ‘zero-waste nation’ have been discussed more and more frequently in recent times. The vision is for Britain to give all the waste it produces a valuable second life, either through re-use, recycling or energy generation.
Tapping into the tougher economic climate, there has been a drive more recently to address the economic as well as environmental opportunities for businesses, so that environmental benefits can be translated into commercial rewards.
In the north-east of England, there are a number of challenges that aim to ensure industry and commerce adopt this approach. Regional support group Renew works to ensure that businesses and organisations in the north-east recognise the value of waste, and helps them to identify the commercial opportunities.
“We need to look at all possible opportunities to deliver the full value of waste”
The region is expected to run out of landfill space by 2016, unless it drastically reduces waste production. Currently it produces around 6.5 million tonnes of waste a year: 1.6 million tonnes from households, 2.4 million tonnes from industrial, commercial and municipal operations and two million tonnes of hazardous waste.
By 2015, 45% of household waste and 67% of municipal waste will have to be directed away from landfill according to targets set by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Renew is focusing on ways to achieve this by increasing the proportion of waste that is re-used or recycled.
Working alongside Tyneside company Graphite Resources, we are supporting the development of steam autoclave technology that extracts value from waste. Based in Derwenthaugh, the facility will handle 350,000 tonnes of waste a year and generate ‘cellmat’ cellulose fibre which will be used to generate power supply and produce new products.
Partnering with WRAP, Renew has also launched the Construction Resource Efficiency Forum, which aims to halve construction waste going to landfill. To date, a lack of communication between the producers and processors of construction site waste has hindered sustainable disposal. The forum is bringing building companies and waste management businesses together to find more effective ways to process site refuse.
A number of feasibility studies commissioned by Renew are examining further opportunities to extract value from waste. These include a regional mapping study of the region’s waste capacity; an assessment of current activity and commercial potential for plastics reprocessing; and an analysis of public sector food waste arisings and the subsequent opportunities for commercial anaerobic digestion systems.
Community initiatives are also important and must not be forgotten in favour of industry-led projects. If, as a nation, we are going to become better at managing and handling our waste, then work has to start at grass-roots level. With this in mind, Renew has commissioned research into the establishment of a regional Community Recycling Network. This will provide leadership and a voice for the emerging community waste sector in the region.
We must not forget that we are consuming resources at an unsustainable rate. This problem is compounded by a growing global population. As it grows richer in real terms, the world becomes more resource-hungry. We need to look at all possible opportunities to deliver the full value of waste, establishing its economic potential through recycling and reuse.
The north-east has the foundations in place to become a front-runner in this race: there are numerous organisations already fulfilling important roles by processing refuse and creating wealth. It is our job to ensure that the north-east achieves a more joined up approach and grasps the full economic potential of waste processing.
John Barton is director at Renew