The chief executive of a leading UK waste management company has warned of the dangers of a lack of co-ordinated policy for the sector at a time when it is under severe financial pressure.
Ian McAulay of Viridor told a meeting in Westminster that a “new economic realism” was needed.
He said the UK was suffering from national ‘disaggregation’, or a lack of a policy consensus, where even Government departments were contradicting each other. This is a reference to the different positions on household collections held by Defra and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
McAulay was one of the speakers at a meeting organised by the All-Party Sustainable Resource Group (APSRG) to consider policy priorities for the next Parliament in terms of the circular economy.
He said the input-throughput-output path for recycled materials was challenging in the current economic climate.
In terms of input, he said a key driver was a desire from straitened local authorities to cut costs and so the quality of recyclates was falling. At the same time, demand for higher quality materials from processors was adding to the costs of recycling. And then when recyclates are back in the marketplace, those selling them face lower commodity prices.
The current position was an opportunity for proper leadership, and waste partnerships were quoted as an example of that.
“Many are doing some really good work,” he said. “Manchester is leading the way in many areas and the same can be said in other cities. Can we integrate collections, for example, and drive more efficiency?”
McAulay supported recent calls for a National Resources Council to advise the Government across departments, but would want it to be about “action on the ground” in an efficient and well-regulated model.
And he said that joined-up communication strategies were key so that people were told the value of what the sector was doing.
He concluded: “We have a choice and it is a stark one in some ways. We can go for more success but we are stalled at best in many places. We can drive harder for success. But I think we will see in the next 18 months some institutional failure because of this disaggregation. So we have to look at connectivity, scale and consistency and drive it through effective regulation.”
The politician’s view
Former environment secretary Caroline Spelman, who chaired the APSRG meeting, urged the waste management sector not to allow the distraction of a general election to reduce pressure on the European Commission to come up an ‘ambitious’ circular economy programme, having ditched other proposals in 2014.
“The circular economy is something that many enlightened individuals, companies and organisations have understood is something that provides an optimal solution to the use of our resources,” she said.
“It’s important we apply pressure and make sure we do indeed get something more ambitious.
“It is going to be very important for you to be involved in this because we are at the stage in the parliamentary cycle where some of the usual structures that would be in place to apply pressure fall apart for a few weeks.
“The usual strong UK line-up is in flux at a moment when, across Europe, progress is being made and people are trying to shape what form a subsequent [circular economy] package will take.
“As a politician I am reliant on all of you to make sure we do achieve something ambitious as a collective endeavour.”