The waste industry should get its house in order, before it’s forced to, says Paul Timmins, operations director at Ecosurety. And that means reviewing waste legislation to make it more transparent and to encourage more recycling
Anybody who worked in financial services in the ‘90s, like I did, will tell you the industry had never had it so good.
The fabulous levels of profits and personal fortunes drove the growth of ever more new products and ever more aggressive selling.
I worked for these companies, although in the compliance function, trying my best to reign in the excesses. This was difficult to do, without regulatory back-up. Over time, the regulators grew longer and sharper teeth, and there are now strict rules and principles which means the market can no longer police itself.
Firms must be now authorised to trade by at least one, in many cases two, of the UK regulators, The Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.
The majority of those in senior management or designated positions must also be approved by the regulator. They are personally held responsible and cannot escape those responsibilities simply by moving company. Penalties for individuals not fully complying, range from a telling off, to criminal charges, huge fines and being banned from working in the industry.
After 20 years in financial services, I took stock, and decided I wanted a role with a company that aimed to change society and the environment, for the good. Some aspects of the sector have been genuinely exciting, and new. Out has gone IBNR and Combined Ratio (Google them) and in are PRN, PERN, ABTO, and AATF.
Working with others committed to improving the environment, but who also understand real world needs to turn a profit, has been refreshing. But there are similarities.
The waste industry, like financial services, is guided by an overseeing body to ensure regulations are followed. But there is no personal accountability.
Some regulations are difficult to interpret and are not consistent. This is not helped by the views of individual regulators.
Trading in PRNs and evidence has been strangely familiar to other commodity markets. Prices can vary wildly, not only because of supply and demand but because of rumour or worldwide events, including the price of oil.
Unlike financial services, no regulator is keeping a close eye on commodity prices versus unusual activity. But this won’t be the case forever. My biggest worry is any manipulation of the market could result in scandal and less confidence in the recycling sector, from partners and the general public. This could in turn lead to increased regulation, higher costs and market-restricting administration. I’ve seen it before.
Areas of the market currently with little transparency include PRN trading. I sometimes see very small trades that set a new high price, often around the time a large amount of evidence at this price is offered for sale.
Supply seems to fulfil demand but many producers are keen to see how their money is spent by reprocessors.
Battery schemes can meet their targets but the UK can miss its overall goal due to small producer exemptions. There is an over-reliance on lead acid evidence, and somebody told me that 90% of people in the UK have never recycled a battery, leading to toxic chemicals reaching landfill needlessly. Setting targets for individual chemistry types would stimulate recycling activity, leading to public awareness campaigns and less waste reaching landfill.
Packaging, WEEE and batteries compliance are all handled differently, adding cost, complexity and confusing markets.
I hope, post-Brexit, the UK can look at reviewing waste legislation to make it more transparent, simpler, and encourage more recycling. There is no reason at all why the UK cannot set waste standards that are envy of Europe and the world. I only hope it doesn’t take a huge scandal before that happens.