Dan Cooke, director of regulatory affairs at the resources and waste firm Viridor offers his view on the government’s 25-Year Environment Plan and the commitment to publish a new Resources and Waste strategy in 2018. A focus on practical measures, including policies and regulatory frameworks, is essential, he says.
Viridor and its parent company, Pennon, have been very clear in their message to government, urging it to put resource productivity at the heart of its modern industrial strategy. This is the only way to truly influence the change that we in the sector require and that the public and business is increasingly calling for.
On many occasions, including the release of our 2017 Recycling Index, we have emphasised that a crucial first step in promoting greater re-use and recycling of resources is to move with pace towards more standardised collections.
We know there is confusion about the myriad of systems across the UK, about what can and can’t be recycled with this, and the stretching of collection periods, leading to contamination of potentially good material for recycling.
So, we start with making it easier for people to do the right thing, putting the right stuff in the right bin. This is good for everyone – the sector, businesses, and local authorities – and we improve the quality of the recyclates which should, in turn, boost the markets for secondary materials, which is needed now more than ever.
Government also has a role to pay in making the use of these materials more attractive in UK markets, and they can do this quite clearly in practical ways and at the same time build real confidence in the direction of travel.
Public procurement contract specifications for major projects and supply services should stipulate the use of minimum proportions of secondary materials. UK manufacturers and contractors are increasingly expressing an interest in this but clear government support in form of policy would send an unequivocal message and it would stimulate markets.
Reducing the VAT for products which use high levels of secondary materials in their production or packaging is vital to reinforcing the message. It would also be an important incentive for the sector and demonstrate to consumers and the industry that the government is committed to identifying meaningful ways to influence resource productivity and go beyond merely paying lip service to the change this sector and the UK requires. We are already seeing stronger demand from leading brands for quality recycled feedstock, but we have to nurture and grow this demand until it becomes the norm. Only then will we see confidence to invest in more essential recycling technology and infrastructure.
Future policies have to seize the opportunities which come from leaving the European Union and the Resources and Waste Strategy will need to reframe our waste policy around resource productivity. This should also include extended producer responsibility for key products and materials. This involves helping businesses to identify and deliver cost savings, and local authorities to continue to deliver more cost-effective vital recycling-led services, through improvements in the way that resources are used and how waste is managed here in the UK.
Above all, we need to see the right balance between reduction, recycling and recovery within the forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy, which will measurably make progress towards greater UK resource efficiency. Accomplishing this would bring waste policy in line with the emerging Industrial Strategy and Clean Growth Plan.
The reward is translating ambition into reality. Our sector still stands ready to invest in the vital new infrastructure needed. If we can create this balance, recognising that reduction, recycling and recovery are complementary, we achieve significant environmental benefits as we move to a low carbon UK economy, contribute to the security of our energy and vital resources supply, supporting jobs and supply chain opportunities across the country.