A greater understanding of what constitutes a circular economy, and exactly what measures are necessary to help the UK achieve this, should form a key part of the main political parties’ manifestos in the run-up to the general election.
There has been a lot of noise about the need to maximise recycling of scarce resources and move towards a circular economy. But how many people understand that, for example, without significant regulatory change, attitudes cannot alter and positive actions towards a circular economy cannot be taken.
Take our own plastic bottle recycling facility. We are proud of the work we and our industry colleagues have done during the past six or so years to increase the levels of recycling and encourage packaging producers, brand owners and retailers to use more recycled content in their packaging – the dairy industry being a particularly strong example.
But without further changes to some outdated legislation, more earmarked funding and significant political focus on moving towards a circular economy, the industry cannot continue to grow at the pace needed to meet EU targets.
Specifically, we would like to see adequate funding for enforcement of the MRF Code of Practice and Transfrontier Shipment Regulations. The latter would support a level playing field between domestic and foreign recyclers, ensuring that the recently updated PRN/ PERN system works effectively.
But the problem is that the updated PRN system assumes all shipments will be legal – recent checks have revealed this is not always the case. A more comprehensive inspection programme is required from the Environment Agency to prevent illegal shipments which undermine legitimate UK companies.
The industry also requires further clarity on the future of landfill tax. The landfill announcement earlier this year demonstrated that there is a commitment to a longer term strategy on tax levels. But there needs to be decisive action after the next election, if not before, to create some stability in the industry and confidence among investors. Landfill tax should increase at least in line with inflation and the formula should be fixed until, say, 2020.
Other areas for consideration by all the parties should include: pressure from politicians on councils to follow WRAP’s recommendations in its report on material sales; a greater focus on quality and capturing more bottles when collection systems are reviewed for TEEP compliance; and widespread support for the Resource Association’s destination charter – there is no doubt that households will recycle more if local authorities are transparent about where residents’ carefully sorted recycling is sent for processing.
It is paramount that the political parties take the time to understand the waste industry and the factors that can encourage and support its growth. But rather than its future simply coming down to party politics, we are calling for cross-party consensus to give a consistent and predicable basis for investment. Only by doing so can the UK take the appropriate steps towards becoming a circular economy.
Chris Dow is chief executive of Closed Loop Recycling