The resource and waste management sector has a new voice. Officially launched last November, Resources & Waste UK (R&WUK) is a partnership between the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and the Environmental Services Association (ESA), and its task is to champion the future of resource management.
With a new Government taking shape, and policy and local government developments expected in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, R&WUK has produced its first substantive report with six key policy areas in which action is needed.
MRW editor Robin Latchem joined CIWM chief executive Steve Lee and ESA executive director Jacob Hayler at the ESA offices to hear first-hand what the Government and the industry can do together.
Improve the climate for investment in circular economy infrastructure to deliver sustainable growth and jobs
This is important in a post-PFI world where we have come a very long way in a very short time, and delivered a lot of waste infrastructure to enable us to meet landfill diversion targets at least six years early.
The question is therefore: what do we do now? It is very difficult to secure funding to develop bank finance for infrastructure on the back of short-term, industrial, rolling, feedstock contracts.
How we resolve that conundrum, and find a way to support, finance and build the new phase of infrastructure, is very important.
It’s all about improving certainty and a climate for investment, relating to spatial as well as strategic planning, both at local and regional levels. It means improving certainty around data and information, highlighting potential gaps in our knowledge.
Tax allowances are important: the UK has high effective tax rates on infrastructure so, if sustainable, green projects were eligible for new allowances, that would be a way of encouraging investment and could attract businesses into the UK to construct facilities here rather than in the wider EU.
Industry has a role to play providing that data and working closely with the Green Investment Bank and others to explore how that balance can be improved to support investment in infrastructure.
Positive engagement on policy development for resources and waste at an EU level
Steve Lee: We are not here to second-guess the outcome of any referendum. We are not saying this is a Government that should strive to be inside, outside or on the edge of Europe, but the effect of EU policy, targets and standards is so great we will toe the line.
It makes it so much more important that the UK through Whitehall is an active partner in discussing and setting that agenda. We want a Government that is prepared to go into bat for us.
Whitehall and the devolved governments have to work together on that. There are some brilliant ideas shared among the UK four, and we want that shared in the views that are put to the EU.
One of the things we really want from the Government is something that the whole waste sector has been talking about for a decade: fair and consistent data standards, metrics and reporting across Europe.
The EU circular economy (CE) package is an enormous amount of work, but it is great to see the consultation, and we want the greater ambition we have been promised reflected in that CE package.
We would also argue for longer term financial instruments to drive behaviour change on resource consumption across the supply chain, from raw materials through to supply and use of recycled materials or recovery of value from wastes.
This should include assessment of the full range of ‘push’ mechanisms for secondary materials, including all existing targets, together with ‘pull’ mechanisms to stimulate industry demand for materials.
We need an awful lot more emphasis on product policy and the consumption cycle.
We will play to our strengths to support our Government in these negotiations. We have got data, understanding and a unique relationship with our customers that the Government will never have. We want to help them be better performers and influence the Government to push for them at EU level.
Support and improve waste collection and recycling performance
We face the twin context of market difficulties caused by falls in commodity prices and the need for councils to meet household recycling targets on a shoestring. Addressing that potential funding gap for local authorities is going to be critical.
As will reviewing producer responsibility legislation to see whether there can be more support from the waste producers for household collection. We are calling for extra support to roll out food and garden waste collections. If we don’t, we will not meet the UK’s 2020 target.
The industry will be keen to work closely with WRAP to develop a national communications strategy in the face of local authority cuts and struggles to fund campaigns adequately.
We can also help to ensure that quality output from household collections is enhanced by co-operation along the supply chain.
Create the right regulatory balance to clamp down on waste crime while reducing burdens on legitimate business
Steve Lee: This is building on a story of success. We have worked with partners across the industry and built relationships with trade groups. We have told ministers and civil servants that there is a serious hole in the side of the ship and we cannot compete with criminals.
Everybody has to be part of fighting waste crime along with tackling poor performance.
The first is obvious: maintain and build on the progress made to date by making the fight against waste crime a high priority and something that is well funded.
The second is to make sure the regime rewards high performance and comes down deliberately on the poor performers. They are there – they either have to be encouraged up the spectrum of performance or they have to be put out of business because legitimate operators cannot compete with them.
There are other issues. They include making sure regulators have the right powers when things have gone wrong because it can be very difficult to take appropriate action quickly.
Additional powers for local authorities are needed, particularly in the fight against waste crime and fly-tipping. Another major area is to examine the fit and proper person status for operators in the industry, a potentially powerful mechanism to address the imbalance between the criminals, the poor performers and the compliant.
The R&WUK’s strengths are in communications and support, so we will identify best practice and use our knowledge and understanding to help those designing the framework – and we must be prepared to share intelligence.
Boost domestic demand and markets for recyclates
There is a lot of legislation and regulation in place covering the waste and resources sector, but the overwhelming focus is to increase the supply of materials on to the marketplace. But there is little consideration of what happens to it when it arrives on the market and where it goes – for example outside the EU.
We would like to see more used domestically, either in the UK or the EU. We want to see from the Government more intervention to stimulate demand for the use of recycled materials in products and packaging.
Perhaps it could use taxation instruments such as VAT – which would require the UK to lobby our EU partners to support change. Perhaps, through the Government’s standards for procurement in the public sector, it could increase the use of recycled content. Or it could be a review of the PRN system to incentivise the use of recycled materials. So there is a lot of things the Government can do.
One of the early key pieces of research for the industry is looking at ways in which exposure to volatile commodity markets could be reduced. Eunomia is doing the work and it will be published later this month.
We are keen to work with council partners to develop best practice around procurement, tendering and partnership working.
Stronger Government co-ordination of resources and waste policy
Steve Lee: This is a ‘golden thread’ because it binds all the other five together. We are looking for a Government which recognises that waste and resource management is not just an issue for our industry but for all of society.
It is unlikely that there will ever be a single department for waste and resource management because it slips into other policy areas. But the sector needs a clear point of contact, a lead ministry and a minister who is prepared to be a champion for these issues. Again, we are happy to use our expertise to support that.
A specific English issue is that we are still working to a waste strategy from 2007 and a policy review in 2011. These are already falling out of date and the policy review was not a strategy. So we would like to see the future of resource efficiency and security reflected in a proper strategy.
We would also like to see the Government building on the success of its first waste prevention plan – already now devised some time ago. It is time to review what worked and to develop it because it was quite broadly based.
The industry represents a body of knowledge and we want to make that available to departments and their civil servants. We want to work with them.
We also want to work with other bodies: the four devolved Governments, local government and WRAP. We do not want to provide by guesswork – we want a clear view of what we all want to achieve.