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A region of renaissance

MRW’s October issue focused on the north-east of England because not only does the region have ambitions to transform itself into a leading example of the circular economy (CE) but it has begun its journey.

As things stand, the region’s recycling rate is certainly not a world-beater – it has the second lowest rate in England and has the greatest amount of waste produced per household. This is clearly worrying for Newcastle City Council, which has set up a commission to examine how recycling can be boosted.

This and a number of initiatives in the region could put it at the forefront of innovative think­ing. Last year, a review conducted by Lord Heseltine backed plans to supply heat networks from energy-from-waste facilities. As an inde­pendent report, it has proved influential in the corridors of power. Heseltine is one of seem­ingly only a handful of Tories to embrace fully the CE.

Regeneration plans have also been drawn up following the closure of the SSI steelworks in Redcar. Prime minister Theresa May visited the area in August to launch a development corpo­ration, and a strategic plan by the Tees Valley Combined Authority has put the CE at its heart.

Despite the SSI steelworks’ closure, metal is still something of a speciality. The north-east processed 14% of the 13.8 million tonnes of recovered metal dealt with in England in 2016, the third highest of the nine regions. MRW scrap prices in the north-east are consistently well above the national average.

UK heavy industry is witnessing a sea-change. Ship-building and oil platform construction have been reversed – instead, vast superstructures containing millions of tonnes of steel and recyclable materials are now being dismantled and recycled.

Before this year’s general election, the Con­servative Party manifesto said “it is expected to be the first major oil and gas basin in the world to decommission fully, and we will take advantage of that to support the development of a world-leading decommissioning industry.”

Ports across the country are vying to get in on the action, and the north-east has grabbed its share with the decommissioning of the 24,000- tonne Brent Delta oil platform on Teesside. A programme of such decommissioning pro­jects will provide a flow of materials to the region for years to come, and innovations in high-tech steel recycling are on the cards.

It could be that, as regions gain further autonomy with metropolitan mayors, com­bined authorities and devolution deals, deci­sions taken locally to boost resource management will have a greater impact on the UK’s burgeoning CE than those taken by the national Government.

North-east facts and figures 

  • Population: 2.6 million
  • Household recycling rate in 2015-16: 37.5% – 8th out of the nine English regions
  • Household residual waste produced in 2015-16: 609kg – 1st
  • Amount of waste sent to landfill in 2016: 3.1 million tonnes – 7th
  • Treatment facility inputs in 2016: 3.3 million tonnes – 9th
  • Amount of waste sent for incineration in 2016: 779,000 tonnes – 7th
  • Hazardous waste managed in 2016: 527,296 tonnes – 6th

Source: Defra

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