Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of MRW, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

2013 review - Alan Whitehead MP , Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group

If I had to select two watchwords for an overview of the waste sector in 2013, they would be ‘quantity’ and ‘quality’.

As far as quantity is concerned, there are some worrying signs from figures published earlier this year that local authority recycling and composting rates are beginning to plateau. Whether this is because it has become increasingly difficult for authorities to find investment and resource for such activities, or whether it’s because the public is simply tiring of sorting waste is not clear. It’s safe to say that scare stories in the press about where recycled waste ‘really’ goes are unlikely to have helped.

What is apparent though is that the drop in figures, a number of high profile cases of waste crime, and continuing clashes between the industry and the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) show that there is still a way to go in communicating the importance of managing our resources to the government and the wider public.

Boosting engagement with household recycling has to be a priority in the light of the aforementioned disappointing figures on recycling. In this respect looking at why Wales is leaving England and Northern Ireland standing in the recycling stakes could pay dividends.

But just as important is the continuing conversion of brute quantity into marketable and sustainable quality and there have been some real pointers in this direction over the last year.

The publication of the EU Green Paper on Plastics Waste has shone a light on moving plastics collection and recycling up the quality hierarchy and on the importance of continuing to press down on plastic going to landfill. It has also, perhaps indirectly, supported the continuing debate on a ‘plastic bag tax’ in the UK. The industry is now beginning to respond with innovative ways of providing biodegradable products to replace present practice.

And quality surely has to come to the front of policy minds with the establishment of China’s “green fence” customs policy on the quality of waste exported to them. Some think that the Chinese “green fence” policy will fade after a period of zeal but I certainly don’t think it will. The green fence policy represents the end of western countries being able to export poorly-processed waste bundles to the east. In future the content and its quality will be king – something focussed on by the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resources Group in its recent report into the export of waste. The report argues that quality is a key driver to better resource management. It recognises that improving the quality of the materials collected, processed and sold within the waste sector will be absolutely vital to its continuing contribution to the UK economy - a win for all those involved in the supply chain. Of course there will be debates about balancing out economic and environmental gains but the sector should not be afraid to innovate and lead the way.

Another quality issue that has emerged strongly during the year is the destination and management of food waste. The United Nations launched its new environment programme ‘Think. Eat. Save. Reduce your footprint’ which targets the 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted each year. In the UK, awareness  of the issue of food waste is certainty rising rapidly, perhaps as a result of the challenging economic circumstances we are in; wasted food is now a ‘luxury’ many can no longer afford. It represents a very real economic question mark and an environmental crisis. Developing local authority food waste collection, engaging manufacturers and retailers in policy challenges on food waste direction and pursuing practical initiatives such as Fareshare-type schemes are all positive responses to the new salience of the issue.   

It’s quantity into quality then and there are encouraging signs that changes are afoot. And they need to be if Britain is to both reach and maintain its own recycling targets and be seen be seen as a sought after supplier of secondary materials across the world marketplace.

Dr Alan Whitehead MP is Member of Parliament for Southampton Test and co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.