Jonathan Davies, a Fellow of CIWM, FICE an RWM Ambassador and recently a senior figure at SKM Enviros, reflects on how we are throwing away economic growth.
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The recent sad death of Richard Hawkins, the eminent and original environmental lawyer, prompted reflection on the development of legislation and guidance on environmental protection. It is a lasting testament to Richard and those who have worked with him since those early days that we now have a regulatory and enforcement structure that does a pretty good job of controlling the environmental impacts from the treatment and disposal of wastes.
In parallel with these advances we have also seen the welcome and indeed dramatic growth of retention or recovery of value from the resource materials we use. However, this is still driven by policy and regulation setting targets for reducing the amount of waste we dispose of. The plateau that we appear to be reaching perhaps reflects the difficulties inherent in controlling a flow of waste material whose value is not apparent to its disposers and, for householders, who see little direct connection with the cost of its disposal.
A Call For Recognition & Optimisation
Many of us in CIWM have called for recognition and optimisation of the value in materials that we use before they become “waste”. This is supported by many excellent studies and proposals including the Resource Security Action Plan, the Circular Economy Task Force and the Ecosystem Markets Task Force, which draw to our attention the “stock” value in our resource deposits, in addition to the cost of extracting and processing them for use. Sir Jonathan Porritt has signalled the dramatic reduction in, for example, copper ore concentrations mined over recent years.
Yet the government’s stated desire to “get out of people’s hair” and focus only on compliance with statutory targets leads to a “business as usual” approach that fails to recognise that these studies present an opportunity to achieve the government’s objective of economic growth, through the business efficiency that comes from efficiency in how we use our resources.
“Proposals range from reallocation of responsibilities to an Office of Resource Management in a number of guises.”
Many professional bodies are drawing attention to this, and to the scattered responsibilities within government for waste and resources-related activities, including BIS, Cabinet Office, DCLG, DECC, Defra, Department of Transport, Foreign Office, Offices for Devolved Administrations, and HM Treasury. Proposals range from reallocation of responsibilities to an Office of Resource Management in a number of guises. It would be impractical to hope for a new executive department that draws to its heart all of the many aspects that govern and are affected by resources management – especially in the last months of the current administration.
But a unified body that considers and sets policy on these issues in consultation with the responsible department would both give a clear and, I hope, strong lead – and allow the respective departments to get on with their main responsibilities. For example, Defra could then focus on environmental protection, leaving the business and economic growth opportunities to BIS, and energy resource optimisation to DECC. My personal view is that this body should be sponsored by either BIS, reflecting the business advantages to be gained; or Cabinet Office as the overarching department.
I believe that such a body could both collate and present all relevant work; set out a road map for achievement of the changes needed; and above all, signal clearly and consistently the economic prize before us – and the cost if we let it slip through our grasp.
Jonathan Davies is an ambassador for RWM in Partnership with CIWM.