Defra Report: CIWM Will Take Up The Challenge

Steve-Lee-no-cut-out-webOn the back of Defra publishing its latest report on the waste and resources management industry, CIWM’s chief executive, Steve Lee, summarises its contents and offers his own opinion on what we need to do next. CIWM Journal Online Exclusive

Defra published its new report on the waste and resources management industry today (5 February 2015). It’s a valuable and timely report and complements its publication of Digest of Waste and Resources Statistics 2015 from last week. Taken together they help fill a long recognised gap in this industry – the ability to turn data into information, and information into understanding. CIWM wants to see this report maintained and updated in the future as a very helpful barometer of the state of the industry and its place in the general economy.

Minister Dan Rogerson wants to use the report to stimulate discussion on three fronts: does it fully reflect the sector’s contribution to growth and the opportunities available?; is there other evidence which strengthens the case for action?; and what actions do we in the industry propose to take to capitalise on those opportunities?. CIWM will take up that challenge.

In very general terms this new report puts numbers – evidence based and thought-through – to issues that most of us in the industry already think we know. It gives some background to some of the new waste prevention metrics put forward by Defra and explores three general themes around the sector:

  • Extracting Value From Waste: showing that as well as the total value of the industry its “gross added value” (GVA) has also risen in the last 10 years, including a strong development in the GVA per tonne of waste managed. That feels intuitively correct as we continue to move away from waste management and disposal to managing resources – keeping them working and putting wastes back to work.The value of resources and energy recovery has risen and is likely to continue to rise. Global demand for resources is certain to rise between now and the middle of the century, stressing the importance to the UK of secure resource supply and the economic advantages including value and jobs from this industry.
  • Increasing Resource Efficiency: this continues to increase in the UK and there is more to come – through more resource efficient processes, increased use of recycled materials and better design, including re-manufacture, the role of repair and design or longevity. As a positive influence across all sectors the “circular economy” of the future can – and will – deliver net jobs growth and new skills.
  • Export: regardless of improved resource efficiency worldwide, the demand for resources will increase as will the need for efficient and effective waste and resources management. Developing and developed economies want to benefit from UK experience and expertise in wastes and resources management and this is set to grow.

We know this. But this report helps pin down and quantify the issues, making it easier to demonstrate the value of what we do and what we will be doing in the future. This report also throws a light onto what we have to do to realise that value.

Extracting Value From Waste

To extract value from waste we need continued investment in services, infrastructure and technologies. The long-term promise of the sector stands in stark contrast to some of the short to medium-term pressures in this industry – all of which militate against the sort of investment we need. Right now the longer term promise is threatened by the lack of resources for front-line services, especially in local authorities, coupled with a temporary but very real drop in the value of recycled materials. The report rightly identifies a current hiatus at a European level regarding the future of circular economy policy, direction and where necessary intervention by governments. This is regrettable and we need a UK Government prepared to engage in and to influence this European vision: shaping targets, fiscal measures, design standards, common measurement and reporting – the “more ambitious” approach we are waiting to see from the EU Commission. We also need to stimulate “home” markets for recyclates and resources including waste-derived energy (including heat); and we need to continue to work on our own skills and professionalism.

“Half of the world wants to benefit from UK technologies and know-how in recovering materials or value from our wastes. This is something that CIWM can and will commit to alongside our partners in this industry”

Increasing resource efficiency can in part be driven by commercial advantage. But to really move forwards we need to see real ambition, including initiatives such as shifting the burden of taxation away from skills and labour onto resource consumption and environmental cost; product and design standards; and long term vision for resource efficiency and waste prevention. Again, these are all things that we want to see in a revised EU package on driving the circular economy.

And on exports we need to seize this opportunity. The thirst for UK knowledge, skills and products for waste and resources management is there. As an industry we have not been as pro-active as we should in promoting our strengths. Half of the world aspires to waste collection and management standards we have had for 20 years. They aspire to learn from our rapid transition towards recycling and resource efficiency. And half of the world wants to benefit from UK technologies and know-how in recovering materials or value from our wastes. This is something that CIWM can and will commit to alongside our partners in this industry.

This is a timely and useful report from Defra. It shows the importance of what we do and can do in the future. It also points to what we need – and what we need to do ourselves – to realise that promise. Having done this once – we want to see government update and improve on it in the future. Its a welcome and useful addition to understanding the future of our sector.



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