The energy-from-waste (EfW) sector has been urged by one of its senior representatives to make its voice heard during the Government’s consultation on industrial strategy.
Margaret Bates, president of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, told a conference in London that there was “a window of opportunity” to influence policy around resource efficiency, and particularly the balance between recycling and energy recovery.
She was delivering a keynote speech on the first day of the 13th International Energy from Waste event in which she considered the EfW infrastructure capacity debate, refuse-derived fuel (RDF) exports, attitudes to waste (“householders don’t feel responsible enough”) and recycling rates.
There was, Bates said, a need for ministers to set out their policy agenda: “Defra tells me they have clear statements on landfill and on recycling targets. I have yet to see them: they are more of an indication.”
Bates acknowledged that many people at the event would be involved in exports of RDF to the continent but she thought this made no sense, particularly under the proximity principles of the Waste Directive (requiring material to be disposed of as close to the source as possible), when the UK was buying energy from its European neighbours.
“Part of Europe or not, we should as much as possible be utilising our own waste to generate our own energy. We should be utilising our own resources to support our own manufacturing, and making sure we get as much value as possible out of everything we have in our control.”
She also called for better data to frame greater evidence-based policy-making.
A question from the floor raised the debate between the quality and quantity of recycled materials. Bates said EfW had its place in the resource management mix because there was little point in using water, energy and money to recycle materials no-one wanted.
“One of the things missing in the circular economy debate, which is meant to be holistic, is that we don’t have that holistic picture. We should not be putting stuff on the market where we don’t have a sensible end-of-life solution for it.
“If the sensible solution is energy recovery, that’s fine by me, but let’s state that upfront – let’s not pretend it will be recycled. We need to revisit that whole quality versus quantity debate, and make some sensible and pragmatic decisions.”
In urging delegates to respond to the Government’s consultation on industrial strategy, she said: “We’ve never had the level of interest in waste at the moment, whether it be in the news, the high street or in government departments.
“We need to make sure we utilise that window of opportunity to make sure our voices are heard.”