Professor Paul Ekins, keynote speaker at the CIWM Conference 2013, certainly opened with some “no holds barred” opinions on the industry. He advocated a “pay as you throw” approach to waste collections and described waste as “so last century”.
He opened with the issue of the circular economy, a subject he addressed in his own book, written in 1992, in which he said that the “dominant model of the industrial economy must be transformed from linear to a circular form”. 20 years ago and the same issues are still being addressed today.
“In the multi circular model… the waste from one product/process are the resources for another, so that there is no waste, disposal problem or pollution, just a great cycle of transformation”.
He added that in the waste industry there had been a lot of progress made… landfill falling from 90 to less than 50 percent, and that it was down to the people in the industry and the development of policy. “This has been important, through the Waste Framework Directive, targets for biodegradable waste through the priority waste stream directives, through the regulations on tyres, hazardous wastes… new ideas such as extended producer responsibility and new ideas allowing member states to implement the ideas in widely differing ways.
Paul Ekins – “You need to reinvent yourselves as materials and resource manager. Waste is so last century, don’t you think… and CIWM might like to think about changing its name!”
“Those that want to question the UK’s place as an EU member state must ask if we’d have seen such progress if we had not been a member state” adding that what has driven it has been the need to “incentivise investment”.
“It’s always been clear that waste management to drive waste up the hierarchy would require huge investment”, he said, “but businesses need to make profits and that is what the landfill tax has been all about”.
He explained that this was the past and that the future was the new aspirations for zero waste and a circular economy, and that they are very real aspirations, such as Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan. Waste prevention will be key, he said, but we need to get smarter if we want this agenda to help us deliver on the competitiveness and jobs directives that are currently key.
“I suggest to you now that the agenda is how to prevent materials from becoming wastes,” he continued. Wastes lose value, but we as an industry add value back to them, he explained, through energy recovery, recycling and re-use etc, but this process adds costs too.
“We need to move from wastes to materials management and this would require your industry to intervene earlier in the journey… to reduce the quantity of material required, through light weighting perhaps, and to increase the time materials fulfil their service before becoming wastes… to reduce the amount of energy while a product is in service… to incentivise separation and collection system, but minimise the costs of recycling and re-use.”
He said that industrial symbiosis was “close to his heart as it most closely resembles the living economy” which the human economy increasingly needs to mimic, and the policies needs to make these transformations happen, was clear: regulations on exports and more information on who owns what and where, for example.
“This is the challenge of this century. I’ve noticed a change in the thinking of waste professionals, and you need to reinvent yourselves as materials and resource manager. Waste is so last century, don’t you think… and CIWM might like to think about changing its name!”