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Will an emphasis on resource efficiency help quality issues?

Steve Smith

I have written a lot about the need to improve the market for secondary materials. Consistent, high-quality materials, both at the input and output of the recycling system, are essential to build a strong economic sector. But more still needs to be achieved to ensure long-term growth.

The Europe 2020 Strategy, which promotes a resource-efficient Europe, has at its heart sustainable development, identifying ways to boost economic growth through creating green jobs, providing energy security, tackling climate change through reducing greenhouse gases and preserving natural resources.

The consultation connected to the strategy, the European Resource Efficiency Roadmap, places increased resource efficiency as central to securing a strong economy by finding new ways to minimise waste, improve the management of resource stocks, change consumption patterns and optimise production processes.

Initially there will be themes that apply to all resources, such as consumption and market-based instruments like taxation, but there will also be focus on key resources and use of materials, water, food and land.The EU recognises the need to boost economic performance but not at the expense of the ever-diminishing supply of natural resources nor increasing the environmental impacts of resource use - the growth must be sustainable.

The move towards a low-carbon economy needs to make the best possible use of resources throughout the lifecycle. Not only does this include how materials are developed into products or packaging, and how the material components are recovered at the end, but also detailing this information to the consumer. This includes getting the price of products right, truly reflecting the full costs of the resource used, detailing, for example, the cost of transport, energy and water usage in the retail price.

“How do we persuade consumers to buy products or services that are more resource efficient?”

I cannot see this being an easy task. How do we persuade consumers to buy products or services that are more resource efficient? We have seen the reluctance of some food manufacturers and retailers to put consistent information on packaged food about salt, sugar and fat content or whether the packaging materials are recyclable.

Another aspect is giving businesses a greater degree of certainty about the low-carbon economy by creating a long-term approach, which it is anticipated should encourage more investment and innovation. This, combined with normalising resource efficiency into a wide range of policies, should give businesses more confidence.

One of the aims of the strategy is to make the EU economy based on a recycling society, where waste generation is reduced and more waste is used as a resource. Currently, each year, the EU disposes of €5.25bn-worth of recyclables such as paper, glass, plastics, aluminium and steel, and recycling this material would save 148 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. And if all this material is properly considered, what other potential is there? If countries recycled 70% of their waste it is predicted that at least 500,000 new jobs would be created.

Perhaps creating a more buoyant green economy would demonstrate the value of resources and help to change attitudes. But people may need to see the evidence first.
Steve Smith is director of SCA Recycling and president of the CPI’s recovered paper sector

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