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An opportune moment

Britain is fast running out of available landfill space, but there is some comfort to be found. Unlike some countries, the UK has a whole host of legislation aimed at combating environmental issues and will also benefit from a recently announced Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) grant to encourage the elimination of waste.

The DTI has earmarked £80 million, which is intended to "take new ideas and technologies out of the lab and into the market". Nine high-priority technology areas have been identified - including waste management and minimisation - in order to develop new technologies to reduce or eliminate the creation of wastes, to find new ways to reuse and recover waste products, for the treatment of hazardous wastes and to find alternatives to landfill.

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt says the grant is to "kick start research and development in areas to ensure that the latest ideas and technologies can be turned into businesses, jobs and prosperity for Britain". At last, the Government is offering financial recognition for what many in the waste reduction industry have believed for some time: environmental legislation is not an obstacle to overcome, but rather a source of opportunity.

DARP Environmental Consultancy, which specialises in the Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, is just one of many services to have been borne out of the sometimes complicated web of environmental regulations and EU directives. DARP managing director and project director Lorie Randall believes that "success will come to the business or individual that embraces the legislative changes, and leaps where others fear to go".

Randall says that there are those who perceive new environmental legislation as a business barrier, or "as an excuse not to do anything, so that we can blame someone else - normally the Government".

The WEEE Directive is awash with bureaucratic wrangling and delays; although Randall says that it appears to mostly be the larger players in the market that are preventing its implementation. Randall claims this is "understandable". "The large players know all about the directive and creating barriers will render it less effective," she says. "The less effective it is, the less WEEE will be collected and the less they will have to pay." Randall suspects that these players may also be exploiting the confusion, using it as a "strategic smokescreen" to keep them ahead of the competition.

Given that in the UK we produce enough waste in less than two hours to fill London's Albert Hall, there is clearly room for both improvement and innovation. Not only is WEEE the fastest growing form of waste in the Western world, but the Directive will affect an estimated 30,000 companies in the UK making or selling almost anything with a plug or battery.

Although there is virtual worldwide consensus on the environmental benefits of reducing pressure on landfill, companies such as DARP need no convincing that directives such as WEEE can be turned into business opportunities, harbouring jobs and economic growth for Britain. There is, of course, need for investment, but Randall says that investors are reluctant to inject funds in the UK, instead redirecting them to Asia, where the market economy and technology for recycling is growing. "Why should investors develop solutions in the UK - when industry appears to see this directive as a problem, and not as an opportunity?" she asks.

Randall says that, to date, the UK has not developed any new proc

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