Treatment of the residual waste stream and reform of packaging regulations are key elements of a Government-commissioned assessment of the UK’s infrastructure needs.
The interim National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) sets out a vision and priorities within seven areas to meet the country’s needs up to 2050:
- eliminating carbon emissions from energy and waste
- building a digital society
- connected, liveable city-regions
- infrastructure to support housing
- a revolution in road transport
- reducing the risk of drought and flooding
- financing and funding infrastructure in efficient ways
Lord Adonis, chairman of the NIC, warned that the current state of the country’s infrastructure could hold the UK back and a long-term plan was needed to ensure it was fit for the future.
“We cannot afford to sit on our hands,” he said. “Ministers must act now to tackle the three Cs of congestion, capacity and carbon if we are to have infrastructure fit for the future, supporting economic growth across the country.”
But he also urged local leaders to develop their own plans for infrastructure to meet the needs of their communities.
Adonis was in Birmingham to launch a consultation which runs until 12 January. A total of 28 questions have been posed with two directly affecting the waste sector:
- How should the residual waste stream be separated and sorted amongst anaerobic digestion, energy from waste facilities and alternatives to maximise the benefits to society and minimise the environmental costs?
- Could the packaging regulations be reformed to sharpen the incentives on producers to reduce packaging, without placing disproportionate costs on businesses or creating significant market distortions?
The NIA comes the day after publication of the Clean Growth Strategy, a wide-ranging plan headed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, designed to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions. It included a commitment to develop a resources and waste strategy “to make the UK a world leader in terms of competitiveness, resource productivity and resource efficiency”.
There appeared to be reticence over sending waste for incineration, saying the Government would work with the waste sector to “ensure that different waste materials going into energy recovery processes are treated in the best possible way … to maximise their potential as a resource”.
On the same subject, the NIA says: ”Burning degradable waste such as food and (natural) textiles reduces greenhouse gas emissions, since the carbon dioxide produced is less harmful than methane which is emitted if this is landfilled. However, burning plastics in ‘energy from waste’ facilities increases greenhouse gas emissions, since plastics are carbon‑based.
”Sequestrating waste plastics, where recycling is not an option, could reduce emissions compared to incineration but would need to be done in a way that avoided other harmful environmental impacts.”
The NIA report is supplemented by extensive research into public attitudes which included a series of workshops, to which MRW was invited.
Consumers were found to be concerned by “the growing amounts of packaging waste generated by an increasingly ‘disposable’ society”. Workshop participants favoured greater responsibility on producers even if it meant increased prices, and there were concerns about waste consumer trends, and that the existing system will not deliver positive change.
Reaction: CIWM chief executive Colin Church
”It is really positive to see that the NIC has acknowledged the point we’ve been making that resource and waste management is a significant element of our national infrastructure beyond individual large projects. And the NIC’s caution about the future of electricity-only energy from waste is right, as is an emphasis on waste prevention, especially through tackling packaging issues.
CIWM also welcomes the continued placing of all this within the wider carbon agenda, and the consultation document includes other points we would agree with, such as looking more closely at biogas and the important role good data can play. We are particularly pleased to see the commitment to say more soon on the issues of poor data beyond the household waste stream; without accurate data and a clear policy framework for capturing secondary resources, we will continue to have polarised debate about infrastructure needs in this sector.
On the other hand, the NIC disappointingly doesn’t seem to have taken on board the role secondary raw materials – beyond energy – could play in supporting other industries, from aviation and construction to automotive and computing. Whilst making a strong case for improved energy efficiency, the role of better resource efficiency is only implicit in the report.
Overall, and taken together with yesterday’s Clean Growth Strategy, we can now at last see an overall policy picture emerging for the resource and waste management sector in England, something everyone has been seeking for quite some time. CIWM will continue to play its part in helping the NIC develop its thinking further in respect of the resource and waste management sector and we look forward to working with it in developing the full National Infrastructure Assessment over the coming months.”