24 December 2018

Our Waste, Our Resources – My Reflections

In the wake of the government’s publication of the Resources and Waste Strategy, Dr Adam D. Read, external affairs director, SUEZ SUEZ recycling and recovery UK reflects on the Strategy – and Christmas.


OPINION: It’s finally here, and the excitement almost mirrors that of Christmas morning for most children in the UK who wake to find the mince pies gone and an arrangement of wrapped presents under the tree.

After months of speculation about the principles, scope and content of the much anticipated Waste and Resources Strategy, we now know with more certainty just what the Government has in store for the resources and waste sector over the next 30 years, and perhaps more importantly the next six months.

Expectations have been high for some time that we would find many of the big ticket items covered off in the document, including Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) reform, food waste initiatives, measures to simplify recycling for consumers, elimination of avoidable plastic waste and tackling waste crime.

Dr Adam Read, SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK

And I am sure you won’t be disappointed. The new Resources and Waste Strategy for England, the first of its kind since 2007, focuses on a number of known issues namely:
[1] reducing our reliance on single-use plastics;
[2] cutting confusion over household recycling;
[3] tackling the problems of packaging;
and [4] putting an end to food waste, whilst providing the necessary linkages to targets set out in previous Government strategies including the Clean Growth Strategy and 25 Year Environment Strategy.

I firmly believe that this strategy provides the much needed framework to revolutionise recycling and support progress towards any number of circular systems (and economy).

It also reflects a significant number of the initiatives and interventions that SUEZ outlined in our vision for a more sustainable resource and waste management earlier in the year SUEZ – Future Vision 

I am happy that the themes in the strategy are consistent with the debates we have been engaging in with both Government and key sector organisations over the last 9 months. I am equally glad there is nothing in here that shocks me as it shows that Government have been listening to us all when it comes to what we wanted to see, what is really needed to encourage change and investment, and where the system is failing us.

So what are some of my personal highlights from the strategy?

First and foremost is the Government’s intention to introduce Full Net Cost Recovery Producer Responsibility, which requires businesses and manufacturers to pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste. This sets the bar higher than in Europe for cost recovery, and should ensure funds are available to pay for litter clean-up, materials campaigns and perhaps even the transition costs where new services and infrastructure are required. This is the game changer that we all hoped for, and in January 2019 we will have a chance to influence the scope and design of the system through planned consultations.

Of interest for those of us that work across the UK, the Government is keen to see both an EPR and a deposit return system (DRS) that is applicable in all of the home nations, and I can’t support this agenda enough. This is key for the businesses that sell products across the UK, and for consumers wherever they live and work. This should provide an interesting political dialogue throughout 2019 as Scotland progress with its own plans for DRS.

And given my background in local government and consultancy I am also focused on the Government’s intention to simplify collection systems for consumers, from improved consumer product sustainability labelling and measures to create greater consistency of collected materials, not just packaging, but food waste too. The proposal is for a nationally agreed set of packaging materials for collection and the adoption of minimum service standards which deliver good quality recyclate (a pre-requisite of the EPR reform).  I support this plan of action.

So good news all round then?

For all the positivity being shown across the sector on both the scope and ambition in the strategy there are four fundamental concerns that I have about the deliverability of the strategy, which are shared with many of my peers.

2023

[1] the timetable for change shows little being delivered before 2023 (although there are plenty of work streams underway to influence solutions and policies before then);
[2] the lack of detail currently available on how much of the change will be implemented (this will be a key theme in the consultations);
[3] the risk that over time (and through the consultations) the ambitions of the strategy are watered down; and
[4] the lack of clarity on UK reprocessing capacity and infrastructure development (which may form part of the EPR consultation).

But, I remain positive, the general direction is good, the joined up thinking makes sense, and the overall level of ambition is in line with what the sector have been asking for over a number of year. So what next?

Opportunity knocks and now is the time to get on board and contribute

It is clear from the strategy that many of the Government’s intentions and policies are ‘subject to consultation’, with seven expected consultations in the first quarter of 2019, covering off some of the ‘meatier’ issues like EPR, DRS, consistency, mandatory weekly food waste collections and standards for bio-based and biodegradable plastics etc.

This is the opportunity to be heard, to contribute to designing a gold standard system that enables materials to be captured for recycling in the most cost-effective way, whilst contributing to a new circular economy.

One thing is for sure, change is happening in our sector, and sitting on your hands and staying quiet won’t change this. So get involved, whether corresponding directly with DEFRA on the consultations, or through your appropriate trade / professional / representative bodies, all of whom are already planning events, workshops, webinars and discussions to brief you of the issues and hear your thoughts, concerns and ideas.

So make sure you put some quiet time aside this Christmas to unwrap the most welcome of Christmas presents from Mr Gove, digest its aspirations, and mull over the issues that will most impact you. You can then be ready to engage in what will probably be the busiest year in the resources and waste sector in my lifetime. And that’s exciting!

Contact

As always, my opinions are my own, and I welcome any conversation or feedback you might have on the issues I have raised. Please contact me at: adam.read@suez.com.

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