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Coming together drives questions and solutions

Chindarat Taylor

Pathway To Zero Waste recently held a round table event in London, at which the chiefs of 10 waste management firms were joined by figures from regional and local government and the Environment Agency to discuss infrastructure development. We wanted to get a steer from the industry and some of its key stakeholders on what they perceived to be the main barriers to getting more waste management and recycling facilities built, and how we might be able to help tackle them.

A number of familiar subjects came up, funding, planning and public perception being just three. What did surprise me, though, was how self-critical the attendees were when assessing the industry’s own performance in addressing these issues. There was universal acceptance that for their own individual companies to grow, they all needed to work collaboratively and share the success that this will bring.

“I would not be surprised to see facility-sharing of one form or another in the future”

One of the most interesting suggestions was that of sharing facilities to maximise productivity. Clearly it makes sense to have fewer facilities operating at full capacity. Fewer facilities also mean less land to find,fewer permitting processes to navigate, as well as reduced set up and operating costs.

But it is not necessarily a golden bullet because the scaling up that might be necessary to make a viable business opportunity may make the permitting and planning processes more complex and difficult. But I would not be surprised to see facility-sharing of one form or another in the industry in the not too distant future.

Another area that generated a lot of discussion was allowing facilities that are established to service long-term local authority contracts to take commercial & industrial waste streams too. And for them to be sited where the largest volumes of feedstock are concentrated rather than according to local authority boundaries.

The pace at which customers’ demand for non-landfill solutions is growing, and the increasing gap between this demand and the
availability of facilities to cater for it was recognised as a real issue. More and more customers are insisting that their waste is reused, recycled or used to create energy. But unless the UK’s infrastructure network expands to be able to match that demand,
one chief executive at least feels there is a real possibility that more waste could end up being exported for processing.

If this process is ‘locked-in’ via long-term contracts, it could represent a significant missed opportunity for job and wealth creation in the UK.

A possible solution to accelerate the development of new recycling facilities was that they be given ‘significant national infrastructure’ status. This would apply only to industrial-scale facilities, but it’s a very interesting suggestion and one PTZW intends
to explore further.

The area where there was the strongest enthusiasm to work together was in improving the understanding of today’s waste and
recycling industry, specifically to reduce opposition and delays to planning processes. A working group to tackle this issue was established on the day, and I look forward to letting you know what progress it is making in the coming months.

Chindarat Taylor is director of Pathway To Zero Waste

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