5 November 2009

WRAP signals shift in focus away from recycling

The Waste & Resources Action Programme has confirmed that it is to take a new direction in the wake of signals from government, which will see it shifting away from recycling to the front-end of the production process.

An explanation of the organisation’s new direction, which will start when it takes control of other advisory bodies next April, was given at WRAP’s annual conference on resource efficiency in London yesterday (November 4 2009).

The conference also heard: praise for WRAP’s work from Environment Secretary Hilary Benn; details of sustainability work by Morrisons; and, a reaffirmation of WRAP’s support for kerbside separation of recyclables, rather than the use of materials recycling facilities.

Direction

WRAP chief executive Dr Liz Goodwin described how it was now focusing on resource usage, from waste through to design and energy consumption, explaining that: “The interest of our funders has shifted and focused towards the front-end of the process.”

Dr Liz Goodwin

Dr Goodwin also commended the UN’s message on sustainability which calls for “reducing the environmental impact of the consumption and production of goods and service over the full life cycle.” And, she added that resource efficiency could save the UK £6.4 billion a year.

Commenting on the change of focus to “upstream”, Dr Goodwin said: “We have been given a steer by Defra, we will be doing far more work on that next year and in the coming years.”

This resource theme was taken up by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn who told the event of the importance of looking at products and called for an end to “a 50-year bubble which is in the process of bursting where we think we can just chuck things away. We are running out of stuff, the raw materials the earth gives us.”

Landfill ban

In recent weeks Mr Benn has laid great emphasis on the idea of banning specific materials from landfill. At the WRAP conference he highlighted the consultation paper on the idea of the bans which Defra is to publish early in the New Year and in particular pointed to aluminium cans which can be worth £500 a tonne. He said: “We already have the landfill tax which has provided an encouragement to recycling… and with glass, wood, plastics and metals we are going to consult on these at the end of the year – why would we put them into landfill?”

Food waste could also be banned from landfill, suggested Mr Benn. He said that anaerobic digestion technology to deal with it, “is waiting to take off. The Environment Agency has decided that the digestate produced is not a waste which will mean less paperwork.”

Morrisons

Food waste was an issue raised by Mark Bolland, chief executive of Morrisons, who explained how the retailer concentrated on food rather than other goods and had its own production chain. “Our 14 preparation factories have a £2 billion turnover which would put us sixth in the production league tables,” he said.

Packing it in: Morrisons checkout staff are told to fill bags as much as possible

Packing it in: Morrisons checkout staff are told to fill bags as much as possible

Mr Bolland explained how Morrisons had sought to cut food waste in a variety of ways and had carried out considerable research. “Cucumbers wrapped in recycled plastic last five times longer but there are no benefits to wrapping peppers so we removed it. Two-thirds of our customers did not realise apples last 14 days longer when stored in a fridge.”

And he said that where the customer wants bags, Morrison’s cashiers are told to fill the bags as full as possible and try to only use a maximum of three bags.

MRF campaign

In a closing session at the WRAP conference, the issue of kerbside sorting was raised by David Workman of British Glass.

Mr Workman said he was keen to see “quality focused on” and he also argues in favour of glass containers being collected on their own for the glass manufacturers rather than the material going for other uses.

WRAP’s local government director Philip Ward responded: “I absolutely agree about the importance of the quality of the system. Our study earlier this autumn did find in favour of a kerbside system for sorting. We are continuing our campaign to get the quality of materials improving from MRFs.”

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