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Waste review must build on the good work done to date

Steve Smith

Steve Smith, director at SCA Recycling and CPI president of the recovered paper sector offers his opinion on the forthcoming waste review.

Will the waste strategy review deliver everything that people want it to? Probably not. But with such a wide-ranging document, it will be difficult to please everybody.

There has been a lot of talk about a greater need to get comprehensive recycling for commercial and industrial waste. This makes sense, not only because it comprises 24% of the waste stream compared with municipal’s 9%, but because much of it is similar in nature to materials collected from households, such as paper, plastics and metals. Businesses are increasingly seeing the benefit of greater recycling and better co-ordination on business recycling services.

The revised Waste Framework Directive will pose some interesting challenges on waste prevention and re-use by ensuring the five-step waste hierarchy is legally adhered to. This means we are likely to see greater use of the terms ‘zero waste’ or ‘zero-carbon economy’ - phrases which often mean different things and understanding to different people.

Will an organisation measure zero waste merely by the lack of waste materials it generates? Or will it look beyond its custody of the products and services it delivers: will it consider the energy or water used, the transportation or the many other issues?

It is increasingly difficult to isolate waste and recycling out of the wider carbon economy. For the waste review to be relevant, it will need to recognise the important roles that recycling, waste reduction and energy from waste have to play in the future low-carbon economy, particularly with a technology-neutral strategy.

Improving product design on packaging and goods will be essential, making life easier for the consumer to recycle when a product is finished with. People under-standing that materials and products are considered resources should help generate greater respect and help to drive up quality.

The changes needed for the UK to develop a real green economy, with an increasing number of green jobs and appropriate infrastructure, will require investment. Not only in the physical building of facilities, plant and equipment, but also in communicating different messages.

“It is increasingly difficult to isolate waste and recycling out of the wider carbon economy”

Environmental businesses and investors need confidence in a strategy that will deliver the goods and return on investment. Companies need to be made aware of the amount of environmental legislation that they need to comply with and how green initiatives can help improve the efficiency of their firms. Consumers need to be educated on the importance of generating less waste, while designers need to understand why considering the whole lifecycle of a product or packaging is essential.

It concerns me that budgets for marketing/education campaigns are being slashed because they are considered an unnecessary expense. Yet evidence from all previous economic downturns demonstrates that those brands - and recycling is a brand - that keep their name alive do far better once the economy improves.

Whatever the announcements made in the waste strategy review, it needs to contain relevant strategies for the UK to retain its work to date and provide a sound footing for robust future development.

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