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Review of the year: May - August 2014

These highlights from 2014 as reported in the news pages of MRW

May

Energy company Drax Group announced it was taking legal action after the Government said it would subsidise electricity prices for only one of two burners the company planned to convert to biomass.

In December 2013, the Government had said that two units at Drax’s north Yorkshire plant were deemed eligible for investment contracts under the Contracts for Difference (CfD) regime.

Drax Group

A consultation on how charging for MRF inspections would work was launched by the EA. Back in February, the long-awaited MRF Regulations – applicable to MRFs handling more than 1,000 tonnes a year – were laid before Parliament.

Following criticism that the code’s definition of a MRF was not clear enough, Defra said it acknowledged the need for clarity. The final version was amended to ensure that “certain facilities” such as mechanical biological treatment plants handling construction waste and reprocessors are not captured. Defra promised to “keep this under review to allay concerns that this could create a potential loophole”.

Broadly supported by the waste industry, there was criticism that four times more sampling to check composition of materials than outlined in the code was needed.

Bin manufacturer Straight was taken over by Irish group One51 following a board recommendation.

June

The Queen’s Speech included confirmation of Government plans to introduce a 5p charge for single-use plastic carrier bags in England. The charge was to come into force after the 2015 general election, and applied to supermarkets and larger stores at first.

Plastic bag

This followed the Scottish Parliament’s approval in May of regulations to introduce a 5p charge, coming into force in October 2014.

Europe’s outgoing environment commissioner Janez Potocnik urged EU member states to further integrate their environmental and economic policies as resources become increasingly scarce and costly.

At a public lecture held at University College London, Potocnik made a passionate case for politicians to send “strong signals” to shift towards a circular economy.

WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin hailed new rules to ease the granting of state aid to waste management and recycling projects a “European breakthrough”. She said it allowed member states to channel funding into recycling projects without being accused of favouring particular companies.

A survey by aluminium producer Novelis and charity Forum for the Future found that more than two-thirds of consumers prefer brands that use sustainable packaging, and more than 80% said that firms should increase recycled content of their packaging.

July

Conservative MP Liz Truss was appointed environment secretary following a cabinet reshuffle, replacing fellow Conservative MP Owen Paterson, who had headed Defra since September 2012. Pickles was retained as communities secretary.

Zero Waste Scotland released a report that found no health impacts of ‘extended’ residual waste collections (beyond two weeks).

The Public Accounts Committee grilled Defra officials on its waste PFI policy, with the need for EfW plants in particular coming under scrutiny. Those contracts under the spotlight were Surrey, Norfolk and, jointly, Herefordshire and Worcestershire councils.

Waste PFI policy

Meanwhile, the GIB said that up to 10 EfW plants should be built in the UK each year until 2020 to bridge a gap in residual waste treatment.

The Environmental Audit Committee argued that the Government was not providing leadership to support the transition to the circular economy. Its report Growing a Circular Economy: Ending the Throwaway Society said that business was taking the lead instead.

The trade body of UK manufacturers, the EEF, joined the chorus, urging the Government to look beyond recycling and draft a comprehensive industrial strategy to tackle the growing risk of resource scarcity.

The Confederation of Paper Industries began work on the sampling and measurement of moisture levels in recycled paper as exporter Mark Lyndon Paper Enterprises UK introduced a tough moisture policy for its 200 suppliers.

August

Food waste was a strong focus during August, with a scheme announced that would mean public money being spent on catering would have to meet certain health and environmental considerations. The Plan for Public Procurement sets out five categories of best practice and is due to come into force in 2017.

Then WRAP announced that it would make food waste a priority for policy, and said it was preparing a wide-reaching development of the current Courtauld commitments.

Chief executive Liz Goodwin said the initiative would focus on sustainable sourcing of food, optimising the value chain, consumption behaviours and dealing with unconsumed food.

Food waste

WRAP also said it was applying to become a charity by March 2015 (in fact this was completed in December).

DECC’s £200m CfD scheme came in for more criticism, this time from the Renewable Energy Association and sections of the EfW sector, because traditional EfW schemes will not have access to as much as cash as other technologies.

Absence due to sickness could be costing the sector £70m a year, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Around 60% of lost working days were attributable to long-term absences, which was higher than other industries.

A warning was made to charities and councils not to rely on income from textile collections because the market for charity shop rags and textile banks was showing no sign of recovery, said the Textile Recycling Association.

See tomorrow - Review of the year: September - December 2014

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