The UK resource management sector needs a PR overhaul – a complete rebrand and rethink about the language that we use to update public perceptions and steer both public and private sector behaviour towards shared circular economy goals.
The UK may not be the ‘dirty man of Europe’ any more, but resource management is still seen as a back-of-house activity. Negative terms such as rubbish, waste, dump and tip are all still common parlance – both from policymakers and the public – and inevitably influence the way the sector is thought about and reacted to.
RWM and its ambassadors have been pushing for some time to change this language to a discussion about resources, their reuse and recovery – recognising the intrinsic value that still exists in so many materials that are all too often still being wasted in landfill.
And this is not an attempt to subvert language with Orwellian newspeak – we’re not going to stop landfilling overnight, no matter how many ‘Big brother is watching you’ posters are put up around communal recycling bins or recycling-on-the-go facilities.
Nor is it about greenwashing, whitewashing or any other kind of brainwashing. It’s about deciding on a policy position, explaining its benefits clearly to the public, and showing the leadership needed across sectors, government departments and councils to stop materials being wasted.
From finally making a decision one way or another on pay-by-weight collections, to reopening the debate on deposit return schemes, or establishing a nationwide framework for collecting feedstocks of the future – sensible, well-informed and unified policy leadership is what is required.
Why did it take so long for alternate weekly collections to become the norm? Infighting between Government departments turned this simple adjustment into a debacle, angering the public and damaging perceptions of the resource management sector.
Where is the alignment between bodies such as the Environmental Services Association, WRAP and, for in-stance, the British Plastics Federation or Keep Britain Tidy? Collaboration is even more crucial between Government departments. We need cross-party and cross-department discussions instead of contradictions and meaningless wars of words.
Our sector was overlooked in the recent Building Our Industrial Strategy Green Paper. June’s general election was a great opportunity for the new administration to fill the policy vacuum that has for too long surrounded resource management.
The Government must commit budget and thought into shaping future policies that demonstrate how we can all benefit from the recycling and resource recovery opportunities.
Adam Read is practice director for resource efficiency at Ricardo