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Things they said at WRAP

Reuse and resource efficiency was the focus of the day at WRAP’s annual conference in London.

As WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin said: “The environmental benefit of being resource efficient is largely accepted as a given but increasingly we are being challenged to identify and pursue the economic benefits that can be delivered at the same time. Today, it would be nice if we could for once and for all dispel that urban myth that making your business more resource efficient carries a net cost.”

Goodwin said WRAP would increasingly focus on reuse: increasing reuse rates, developing standards for reused and repaired goods, creating ‘market pull’ for a reuse market and exploring better labelling of electronic goods to drive reuse. However, reuse representatives who attended, spoke of their operations being impaired by funding cuts and having to work against the system.

FRN chief executive Craig Anderson said: “The problem is that there is a barrier to reuse – the waste sector – with the way products are managed for recycling purposes and systems being set up for recycling.”

Founder director of Forum of the Future, Jonathon Porritt said: “What I think WRAP is asking us to is to scrutinise the degree to which our beloved [waste] hierarchy, developed during the 1970s and 1980s, needs to be fundamentally re-thought to take account of changing insights into material flows through the economy

“If we are being honest, those active in the 1970s and 1980s will recall that we were, be default, very focused on recycling and perhaps less focused than we should have been on integrated resource management and efficiency. There are some real problems around all of that, not least the degree to which our own mindsets have become stuck in a frame that says recycling is ‘good’ and other things don’t work as well,” he said.

Porritt questioned what the global carbon footprint of the recycling industry was, and whether we were incorporating our new understanding of embedded carbon and water and material flows in the economy in how we dealt with materials. He also questioned whether the Government and politicians were adapting their policy adequately.

“It is quite difficult to contemplate the contribution that Eric Pickles makes to this whole debate about resource efficiency and resource flows in the economy and come away with anything other than blind disbelief,” he said.

“We are looking at the laws of thermo-dynamics, at the mysteries of the human mind and the quasi-laws of the market. We are serving more data all the time about materials flows through the economy and the need to manage those now to achieve a far more sustainable set of outcomes. We can move with some confidence now to look at the balance between reuse, recycling and recovery. We know we have to get the balance right between all these things.

“Unless we can drive profitability much harder to encourage reuse and design for reduced resource consumption we are still going to struggle against these market disciplines. For me, at the top or bottom of the resource hierarchy is that little word ‘less’ - but less is a very difficult word for politicians and economists to deal with.”

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