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OPINION: ‘The pivotal year ahead’

In this opinion piece, Steve Longdon, the chief executive of FCC Environment, looks at what is in store for the waste sector in what will be a pivotal year.


OPINION: With the new year firmly under our belts, 2024 is certainly shaping up to be another pivotal year for the waste and recycling industry. We’re just over a month in, and so far, there has already been a significant policy intervention that has been welcomed by many in the sector: the banning of disposable vapes.

Figures from the National Fire Chiefs Council show that the UK Fire and Rescue service attends around 300 significant fires at waste management sites every year and, while so called ‘Zombie Batteries’ are not the sole cause of such fires, the improper disposable of single use vapes is certainly one of the biggest culprits.

Steve Longdon, FCC Environment’s chief executive

It is perhaps no surprise that last year a YouGov poll of over 2,000 people, commissioned by the Environmental Services Association, found that the majority of people were not confident of how to properly dispose of used vape devices.

Election

Despite the positive impact the ban will have on the sector, it is understandable that the news will soon be overshadowed by this year’s General Election. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak is yet to announce an exact date, but has suggested it will be in the second half of the year. Regardless of when it happens, the environment is set to be a major election issue – YouGov’s tracker of public views on the country’s most important issues puts the environment fourth overall (third amongst Labour voters) but the main two parties will have different approaches.

The prevailing thinking is the Conservatives will take a more cautious approach, as they have with net zero, urging restraint so it does not impact public finances, and Labour will champion it as an economic driver and job creator as part of a new industrial revolution.

However, with increased scrutiny on their pledge to spend £28 billion a year on green projects, caution is starting to creep into Labour’s message.

If there is to be a Labour Government, we’re yet to gain certainty about what this will mean for the waste and recycling sector. There has been a lack of clarity on their position regarding the ongoing reforms to how we dispose of our waste, with Shadow Environment Secretary, Steve Reed stating that “if [the Resources and Waste Strategy] is an easy win, let’s have it”.

As such, it will be extremely important for industry to keep abreast of any updates on Simpler Recycling, with a consultation expected later this year. The renamed consistent collections policy grabbed the headlines last year as Rishi Sunak claimed proposals for households to have seven bins had been scrapped, but the policy will see for the first time local authorities collect the same recyclable waste streams for recycling or composting from households.

Legislation

As well as consistent collections, the long-awaited Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is still set to be introduced next year so there will need to be a considerable amount of work that needs to be done to ensure its introduction is as smooth as possible.

It has been a positive start to 2024 from a policy perspective, with an intervention that will make a positive difference to our operations. However, the rest of 2024 shapes up, those in charge of local recycling and waste management strategies can only keep going as they and begin to prepare for the next few years with the information it has at hand.

We hope to see more clarity provided as the year goes on, with whoever ends up in government understanding the importance of ensuring the Resources and Waste Strategy is successfully implemented and its ambitions realised.

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