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The case for resource economy being on the political agenda

9 March ‘Boosting Britain’s Circularity Economy: policy priorities for the next parliament’, in partnership with Viridor

What will a new ‘ambitious’ EU circular economy (CE) package look like? The role the UK Government could play in shaping this fledgling package was discussed, with former Conservative environment secretary Caroline Spelman urging a shift away from the linear pattern of creating, consuming and disposing.

“More than ever, as a politician, I rely on you to help make sure that we achieve something that is more ambi­tious. It is a collective endeavour,” she said.

Ian McAulay, chief executive of Viridor, said: “From my perspective, waste is what is left after we have done everything we can with the materials: recycle, reuse, reconditioning. I don’t know why we refer to the waste sector when we should refer to resources.”

Baroness Scott 586

Chair of the House of Lords’ EU Sub-committee D, Baroness Scott of Needham Market, addressed food waste and packaging.

“Packaging can make your food last longer and it is important for retailers to educate customers about this,” she said. “We need an EU-wide approach to reducing food waste.”

David Taylor, director of contract ser­vices for the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority, wanted the CE package to look at every aspect of the production chain: consumption, reuse, design and, at the end, disposal.

David Baldock, chief executive of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, said it was vital to have “pan- European rules, targets, regulations and structure to provide a level playing field and a predictable market”.

Professor Paul Ekins, director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, focused on changing the current system whereby products are put into the market and consumers pay for product disposal, either directly or through their taxes. Ekins said this was extremely inefficient and the incentives were wrong.

12 March ‘A Secure and Resilient Economy: could an Office for Resource Management (ORM) be the answer?’, in partnership with ICE, EEF and Friends of the Earth

A paper from the Material Security Working Group suggested that an ORM policy unit would act as a co-ordinator, convenor and information centre, tasked with forecasting, modelling and research. Chair of the event, Labour MP Barry Sheerman, stressed the impor­tance of material and resource security as a policy issue.

Paul Raynes, director of policy at the EEF, said 80% of its member compa­nies saw material security as a top issue and a third identified it as their biggest business risk. Elaine Gilligan, from Friends of the Earth, said it was an opportunity for resource policies to address environmental concerns around over-consumption.

Conservative MP Laura Sandys, who is standing down at the general election, questioned whether the issue had per­meated into Government.

“We’ve got a big job to do to put materials security, resourcefulness and resil­ience at the heart of thinking around the economy, industry and our wider footprint on the environment,” she said. “We need to look at it from a security but also opportunity perspective.”

Duncan Brack, vice-chair of the Lib­eral Democrats’ Federal Policy Commit­tee, announced that his party would place a ‘Natural Capital Committee’ on the same strategy footing as the Com­mittee on Climate Change, tasking the body with identifying those key natural resources being consumed in an unsus­tainable way, and recommending legally binding targets for reducing their con­sumption and introducing incentives for businesses for resource efficiency.

16 March Launch of a report, Envi­ronment: Priorities for the next Gov­ernment, by the Society for the Environment

Tony Juniper, president of the society, introduced the main themes of the report as climate change, natural capital and resilience in a fast-changing world. He raised key questions for the panel.

1 What is the biggest environmental challenge facing the next Government?

Geoff Maitland, president of the Institute of Chemical Engineers, argued that it was climate change.

2 How can we combat climate change by using natural capital more sensibly?

Professor Mark Kibblewhite, presi­dent of the Association of Agricultural Engineers, commented: “The one big problem for me is that decisions need to be made to prepare the UK and the world for a changed world which has to adapt to climate change at some level. I just hope this isn’t a catastrophic level.”

3 What do you see in terms of going into the next five years?

Peter Jones OBE, founder of Ecolateral, said: “I suspect not an awful lot of movement and, if there is, sadly it will probably be led by natural catastrophes. The reality is we are in a ‘three econ­omy’: we are used to 3% growth, we see net social assets growing 3% and we squander 97% of inbound resources into the natural economy.”

Martin Baxter, director of policy at the Institute of Environmental Manage­ment and Assessment, argued that two gatherings this year would set the trajectory for our ability to deal with climate change. The first is the Paris Convention and the second, at the end of this year, is the Committee on Cli­mate Change’s fifth carbon budget for 2028-32. That will determine whether we will have a renewable or fossil fuel economy, he said.

17 March ‘One Year On: looking at the effects of the recast WEEE Direc­tive’, in partnership with Repic

The discussion explored the impact of the recast Waste Electrical and Elec­tronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which became effective from 1 January 2014. Phillip Morton, chief executive of Repic, said 2014 marked the first year where the UK overachieved its WEEE collection target, and had improved and increased collections. He noted increased transparency of the UK WEEE market.

Stuart Edwards, head of materials and resource industries at the Depart­ment for Business, Innovation and Skills, explained that savings to produc­ers were estimated at £18m.

Graeme Carus, business develop­ment director of European Metal Recy­cling, explained that the Directive had had little impact on his company’s oper­ations, but argued its real impact was in extra administrative burden.

He said the recast WEEE Directive had simplified dealings between pro­ducer compliance schemes and had removed costs, but he called for a sim­plification and cost removal for approved authorised treatment facilities and approved exporters.

Simon Eves, general manager, envi­ronmental affairs, at Panasonic UK, said the costs for producers had come down largely through the new system, and stressed that fees had to be set at the right level because it was a compli­ance, not a penalty, fee.

He applauded greater visibility in the sector: “It has been a very promising start, and we have gone a long way already to meet the objectives to meet the Red Tape Challenge.”

25 March ‘Anaerobic Digestion: bal­ancing resource with energy policy’, co-hosted with Carbon Connect and in partnership with the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Associa­tion (Adba)

Labour MP Dr Alan Whitehead intro­duced the event, and drew on his own experience and attempts to get anaero­bic digestion (AD) going in his local area. He said he found particularly interesting the issue of feedstock and biogas, and argued it indicated the issues that the next Government had to think about and how AD could help meet any CE targets.

Charlotte Morton, chief executive of Adba, said that since her organisation launched in 2009, there had been an increase of 619% in terms of the num­ber of AD plants outside the water sec­tor. In addition, the water industry has increased energy generation from its own plants by 25%.

Around 710,000 homes were now powered from 388 AD plants – equiva­lent to half of central London. This was, she said, very significant in terms of low-carbon energy.

One hundred plants were commis­sioned in 2014 and another 60 are expected this year. The main challenge, however, was uncertainty over financial incentives, for example the Renewable Heat Initiative beyond 2016, which affected investor confidence.

David Greenfield, director of Soenecs, said the coalition Government had been committed to working towards a zero-waste economy. One ambition was to have a big increase in AD and that had been delivered. He argued that funda­mental to growth of the AD sector was a need for councils to understand the cost of waste collection and how this relates to treating waste.

Dr Nina Sweet, special adviser at WRAP, said AD was an established industry with the capacity to grow fur­ther. She argued that the sector had two needs: innovation to develop energy generation and waste treatment, and partnership working.

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