Industry leaders debate future of waste

By Tom Goulding

Industry leaders came together yesterday (September 10) to debate the future of waste and recycling at this years RWM show at the Birmingham NEC arena.

The Future of Waste panel, chaired by The Guardians Fiona Harvey, saw the experts discuss the big issues the sector must address in the near future, including the role of incineration, end of life regulations, consumer demand, and uniform targets for recycling across Europe.

Industry leaders meet to discuss the future of waste at the RWM show 2013
Industry leaders meet to discuss the future of waste at the RWM show 2013

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) chief executive officer Steve Lee, Friends of the Earth senior resource use campaigner Dr Michael Warhurst, Closed Loops Chris Dow, and SITAs external affairs director Gev Eduljee all took to the Leaders Arena with varying views on where the industry is headed.

The panel also included Viridors business development director Howard Ellard, Advanced Plasma Powers Rolf Stein, and independent consultant Jiggy Lloyd who joined in the debate.

Leadership

Each member of the panel was asked their individual stance on the waste and recycling industrys place in the UK today. Introducing his philosophy to the audience, Mr Lee said: We are still a coping industry and because of who we are we are not allowed to stop coping. I believe in action at all points of the spectrum. I believe in strong government, strong leadership, and big ideas.

On an optimistic but critical note, Viridors Mr Ellard said: We have come a very long way in the last 20 years. There have been two drivers responsible for this: targets and landfill tax. Some knowledge of what is going to happen to landfill tax from central government would be helpful.

The fact we export refuse derived fuel (RDF) all over Europe but import biomass from Canada is perverse, he added.

“The 50% recycling target is not for all countries, there needs to be different timelines and pathways. We need high targets and to realise some countries will take longer to reach them than others.”

Dr Michael Warhurst, FOE

Asked by Ms Harvey whether UK recycling rates had reached a plateau, Mr Ellard replied: No, it depends entirely on the product you derive from the material you start with. It comes down to encouraging manufacturers to use recycled products.

Incineration

On the role of incineration, particularly the extent to which the UK should be using the technology, Mr Eduljee claimed the era of energy from waste was coming to an end, while Mr Dow added it has become a victim of recycling.

The export of waste for incineration, Mr Ellard argued, would drop to nil over the next two years as the construction of UK plants continues. Responding Dr Warhursts comments that there were better solutions to incineration, Mr Ellard said there will always be left over material that cannot be recycled.

Recycling rates

Ms Harvey also put to the panel whether a Europe wide recycling target was viable for the future. Dr Warhurst, who argued in favour, said: The 50% recycling target is not for all countries, there needs to be different timelines and pathways. We need high targets and to realise some countries will take longer to reach them than others.

However, CIWMs Mr Lee replied: To a single tier Europe I would say no. It is stupid expecting Bulgaria to get away from their 95% reliance on landfill in the next few years.

On the subject of recycling rates, all panelists unanimously agreed that Flanders, which recently achieved a 70% combined rate, was a good example of what high performance targets could achieve, while Mr Stein added it was already paving the way for advanced plasma technology via gas extraction.

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RWM

Summing up, Mr Lee said: We need to generate information because its not going to come from government. We need electronic duty of care. We can not have the current relationship with our customers, we have to be talking about product design, we have to talk to them about resource design and resource efficiency.

The RWM show, which started today, sees over 750 exhibitors, 150 speakers, and thousands of visitors descend on the NEC to see and hear the latest in waste and recycling innovations. The exhibition will end on Thursday (September 12).

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