With the 2017 General Election less than two weeks away and the party manifestos out, many in our sector are turning their minds to what we should say to the incoming Government, as CIWM chief executive Dr Colin Church explains…
In our sector there is, I would say, fairly good agreement that a more circular economic model is the right option for the UK. There is a whole swathe of evidence to support this, from Defra figures suggesting the scope for businesses to save £23bn a year through resource efficiency, to the various analyses and reports from the Aldersgate Group, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Green Alliance, WRAP, etc. There is consensus on the importance of resource productivity for future economic growth, a strong demand for environmental protections to be maintained as we leave the EU and an overwhelming desire for a clear policy direction.
But is all that just a little too abstract to attract a new Minister? What does it mean in concrete terms? Increasingly, we can see firms developing business models that tap into this and show that circularity can deliver profit alongside greater sustainability, from reconditioned office furniture through remanufactured engines to recycled swimwear. But how should government intervene to push the transition faster?
There is quite a lot of talk around much more specific things, ranging from deposit return schemes for plastic (or other) bottles to disposable coffee cup levies or landfill bans. But what are the bigger ideas that we need to bridge the gap between these small specifics and the conceptual framework?
So a timely thought experiment is to ask “If you had 20 minutes with the Minister, what three ideas would you pitch?”. In other words, do we know what we really want, and what it would mean? If there is the political appetite post-election to lead this agenda, can we provide the substance? Is the sector “leadership ready”, to steal a phrase from Julie Hill (Chair of WRAP)? Here are my suggestions – I’d be interested to hear about yours:
- Keep up the pressure on waste crime, because if we cannot successfully enforce our current regime, how can we expect public or business support to go further? In the short term this means protecting funding for the enforcement agencies, tweaking their powers, tackling awareness and improving professionalism in the whole resource chain. In the longer term, this means looking at whether the regulatory structure we have built up over decades is still fit for purpose, and if not, changing it.
- Develop extended producer responsibility, to make schemes share the cost better, to ensure feedback to producers and designers works to make products more circular and to include more material streams. It’s not a miracle cure, but it seems to me that it is a key element.
- Properly embed resource productivity in public policy, by monitoring and reporting on resource productivity economy-wide and sector by sector, replacing recycling and landfill diversion targets with targets on resource efficiency and per capita residual waste (on a carbon basis, not weight).