The UK waste and resource management sector (as it is now known) has undergone a huge amount of change over the last 50 years. And Barry Dennis, Director General of the ESA, is well positioned to review the past and look to the future. CIWM Journal Online Exclusive
The UK waste and resource management sector (as it is now known) has undergone a huge amount of change over the last 50 years. Now, it’s about using waste as a resource once products have reached the end of their life, rather than burying waste “out of sight out of mind”.
The recent development of the sector means that it has turned its image around. The old idea that operatives just collect waste and companies just bury it in the ground, has well and truly gone, and the majority of the public – young and old – now know that resource management involves a lot more work, with separating materials and treating waste differently.
When I was younger, working for the family business, it was very much about getting the waste materials in and making a profit. Yes, we did extract the valuable materials from the loads, but this was with an eye for getting the most revenue out of the material, rather than extracting the recyclates to conserve the environment! Landfill was the desired method of managing the waste, with incineration (not energy from waste as we now know it) as a support act. There were no recycling centres, apart from scrap dealers, and householders didn’t have recycling bins like they do now. Even though it seemed simpler back then, on the downside, there was less regulation to help protect the environment for the future generations.
At the ESA our members help shape the industry and if we can get the regulation and Government approach to the sector right, then the change across the industry will be as significant as it has been over the last 50 years. New facilities are helping us manage our waste, and change public perceptions. New facilities are recycling more and more materials as well as putting energy back into the grid and helping to produce green energy. In fact, those facilities that combine heat and electricity generation, are some of the most effective and “green” facilities around. With these developments in technology, the big question on everyone’s lips – where do we go now?
Regulation From Europe
With regulation coming from Europe – such as the revised Waste Framework Directive, the Industrial Emissions Directive and possible waste reduction targets – the sector is now one of the most highly regulated. Companies see the “waste” that people throw away as a resource that is able to help support the growing demands of the country, and the developing circular economy. This regulation and guidance needs to continue, but we need support from Government in public engagement and infrastructure investment to follow suit.
The public’s perception of waste management and how their waste is dealt with is also changing. Recycling and composting is now seen as “de rigeur”. Students are taught about it at school and resource management companies are increasingly engaging with the public as well as other key stakeholders when it comes to building new facilities or changing services. The age old adage of reducing your waste by thinking about what you are buying, and reusing what you can, is being embraced more and more.
Changes in Landfill Tax are required to eliminate misclassification and avoidance. Misclassification of waste “fines” for landfill tax purposes distorts the market and has significant economic and environmental impacts. As shown in the recent ESAET Report Waste Crime: Tackling Britain’s Dirty Secret, nearly £160m per annum is being lost to the public purse, due to waste materials, deliberately or otherwise, being incorrectly described as “low rated” in terms of landfill tax. The recent HMRC consultation on Landfill Tax is to be welcomed.
The ESAET report also highlighted the blight caused by waste crime, which costs the UK up to £800m each year and undermines investments made by the legitimate industry. It is good that the Government has increased funding, and put aside £5m for waste crime enforcement, but how far will this go addressing the problem?
Finally, the waste industry is well placed to invest in new facilities, creating green jobs and boosting local economies. Now that the economy is starting to turn for the better, provisions to help underpin new infrastructure investment, such as tax breaks for businesses, would be welcomed by the industry and would help stimulate the private sector even further.
If the Government addresses these issues and works with the industry to drive the circular economy forward, the next 50 years may be as productive as the last.
Barry Dennis is an ambassador for RWM in Partnership with CIWM.