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Call to move waste management into a "virtuous circle"

The UK must develop an integrated policy framework that locks conservation, production and waste management into a virtuous circle to work towards a resource efficiency economy, according to an environmental lobby group.

The Aldersgate Group published a report entitled Beyond carbon: Towards a resource efficient future (February 1). Resource efficiency is the systematic reduction in the quantity of resource employed to produce goods and services in the economy, says the group.

Resource efficiency will be one of the key determinants of economic success and human well-being in the 21st century and describes what a resource efficient economy might look like and what policies would be required to enable the transition, the report states.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: There can be no doubt that we need both a low carbon and resource efficient economy. Resource efficiency already makes good business sense reducing waste, water and energy use cuts costs in the short-term but those businesses that also adopt a longer term approach to improving their resource efficiency will ensure their sustainability and future success in a world where our natural resources are becoming scarcer, and more expensive.

The report assessed how resource efficiency worked in three sectors which include materials, water and food. It argues that current materials policy framework is based on a linear model, targeting the rights of extraction at one end of the chain and waste regulation at the other.

In order for an integrated materials policy framework to become a virtuous circle, the Aldersgate Group argue that a resource efficient approach will ensure the conservation of existing resources through the extraction of only that which is strictly necessary for sustainable consumption. The group also argues that a resource efficient approach would return secondary materials back into the production cycle, either through re-use, recycling or transformation into energy.

It also states that understanding the flow of materials through the UK economy would be an important part of a materials policy framework and that understanding will include an analysis of embedded carbon in the materials flow. The group argue that this would enable policy to engage with the carbon impacts of the wider material economy.

For the metals sector, a resource efficient economy would require a whole life re-evaluation rather than treating each phase of the industrial process as a separate entity.

It states that primary aluminium production in the UK may compare favourably because although the plants are relatively small they have hydro and nuclear power sources with substantially reduced carbon footprints.

The group also argues that scrap exports could be cut in favour of re-use options and could apply to large bean girders and structural steel from the construction and demolition sectors.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs state that 90% of all waste comes from business.

Benn said the word waste needed to be consigned to the history books.

He added: We will reach a resource efficient economy by using only what we need. We will reach it by re-using things as much as we can, turning them into something else when we cant and recycling to give them an infinite lifespan.

He said that in early March he will be making an announcement on banning certain items from landfill.

Lead author of the report Sir John Harman said: It is now in Britains interest to build and expand on this approach to promote low-resource consumption as a vital part of securing future competitive advantage, because the economies of the future will be the ones that make best use of the available resources.


Interesting facts from the report:

  • 60% of aluminium scrap metal is exported;
  • Scrap exports are undertaken at low economic value (around £60m for steel) while the UKs deficit demand for re-imported materials is at high economic cost (around £6 billion for steel);
  • Two million tonnes of steel and 0.16m tonnes of aluminium are landfilled each year in the UK at an economic cost of £140m and £12m respectively.
  • The Aldersgate Group has called on the Government to formulate an industrial strategy for material, product and sectoral opportunities for targeting 100% recovery on particular scrap streams (i.e. mobile phones and aerosols).

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