‘Waste is so last century’, Professor Paul Ekins told the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) at its annual conference this week. It may have been an amusing aside from the UCL’s director of the Institute for Sustainable Resources during an excellent keynote speech but it was the core of his message: we have to move to a model where the economic outcome is not the only priority.
According to Ekins, the ‘last century’ model was a requirement of huge investment to move producers up the waste hierarchy and, without profit, their investment would not be forthcoming. But a drive to a zero waste economy, treating materials not as “stuff” but resources, would impact on more economically-driven design and lower material costs. There would also be greater “industrial symbiosis”, with companies coming together for mutual benefit: in other words, the type of operation Coca-Cola Enterprises and Eco Plastics share at their Continuum plastic bottling plant.
“Achieving zero waste is no longer just an academic rhetoric as perhaps it was 20 years ago; it can now be seen as a realistic ambition,” he said, adding that ‘pay as you throw’ was the best route to boost waste prevention. He also wondered if progress in the UK – and there had been progress – would have happened as profoundly if it was not within the EU. Food for thought, not to waste.
Ekins’ final, half-joking, half-serious, words were directed to the hosts: with our priorities moving away from handling ‘waste’, CIWM should consider a name change to include ‘materials’ or ‘resources’ management. Without a change of emphasis, he warned, “CIWM might be the name for people without a job”. And how timely was it that on Friday, the Kent Waste Partnership announced a new name: henceforth it is the Kent Resource Partnership.
It was a challenging start to a series of sessions reflected across our news pages, including an address by resource management minister Lord de Mauley. Don’t miss next week’s issue of MRW for an exclusive interview with the minister.