Leadership & Ambition? By Gove, We Got It!

This year’s Resourcing The Future (RTF) conference is taking place during a period of “unprecedented opportunity” for shaping future resources and waste policy, says CIWM’s Pat Jennings. So, what can we expect from this year’s agenda?

Janez Potočnik speaking at RtF 2017

With Defra Resources Minister Dr Thérèse Coffey confirmed to give a keynote address, the RTF 2018 conference is taking place during a period of unprecedented opportunity when it comes to shaping future resources and waste policy.

Various Government strategies (the Clean Growth Strategy, the Industrial Strategy and the Defra 25 year Environment Plan) have articulated ambitions – zero avoidable waste by 2050, an end to food waste entering landfill by 2030, a target to reduce food and drink waste arisings in the UK by 20 percent by 2025, zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042, and a doubling of UK resource productivity by 2050.

The next step in the dance is now the forthcoming Resource & Waste (R&W) strategy for England, which the government has said will focus on three key areas:

  • maximising resource productivity – through more efficient manufacturing processes
  • maximising the value we get from resources throughout their lifetimes – by designing products more smartly to increase longevity and enable recyclability
  • managing materials at end of life – by targeting environmental impacts.

So, there is lot to play for at this stage in terms of feeding into government thinking – not just on the shape and direction of the new strategy for England but also in terms of how the UK can come together to co-ordinate and manage policy in the critical area for maximum benefits across the board.

This window of opportunity, set against the recent confirmation that the UK will support the EU Circular Economy Package and the ongoing uncertainty that is Brexit, means that this year’s conference is an important forum for the sector to debate and shape the way forward.

It will look at the challenges and opportunities around improving the UK’s resource productivity from both the demand and supply side, explore some of the new ideas and approaches that might be needed and useful learning from other countries – and revisit the question of stimulating more UK reprocessing capacity and secondary material market demand.

The first morning is shaped around the key themes set out for the R&W Strategy as outlined above; smarter manufacturing, smarter design and smarter recycling, with big brand names including AO and Iceland outlining both the size of the prize when it comes to resource productivity and circular material approaches, and the policy framework needed to make this happen.

The “Smarter Recycling” session, meanwhile, will explore what smarter targets could or should look like from a number of different perspectives, with the Local Government Association, the private sector and Tom Murray, head of materials and waste evidence at Defra on the panel.

Kick starting the debate, Jacob Hayler, executive director RTF 2018 partner the Environmental Services Association, explains: “The current arbitrary weight-based recycling targets don’t reflect actual environmental outcomes and distort behaviour by incentivising the collection of heavy, low value materials. Higher weight-based targets would distort behaviour even more.

“There must be a better way, which targets value and is more closely aligned with environmental objectives. The challenge for the Government will be to come up with something sensible, whilst at the same time avoiding accusations that it is trying to water down EU environmental standards. RtF 2018 will give delegates the chance to help shape the future with some fresh ideas.”

The afternoon breakout sessions then dive down into more detail on some the current hot topics and new ideas, from the latest intel on extended producer responsibility schemes for new waste streams such as tyres and mattresses to the potential benefits of “zoning” municipal solid waste and commercial recycling and waste collections. Other high profile issues covered include the latest thinking on deposit return schemes (DRS) and the communications opportunities (and challenges) opening up as a result of the “Blue Planet” effect.

Markets & Materials

Day two of the conference switches the approach from policy and practice to focus on the opportunities and challenges ahead from a materials and markets perspective and delegates will have exclusive “first access” to the findings of two pieces of research into secondary materials, markets and policy interventions.

The first, commissioned by the RTF 2018 partners, is looking at the complex area of plastics. It aims to develop a plastics hierarchy (ies) for the range of polymers being used in different applications, as well as assessing the interrelated impacts and consequences of the various interventions currently being looked at, from taxation and bans to DRS.

“We have sought to support the current policy debate and strategy review with a focussed look at plastics and what interventions across the hierarchy of plastics uses will deliver higher recycling, use of recycled material and greater resource efficiency,” explains Ray Georgeson, CEO of RTF 2018 partner the Resource Association. “It’s important that the right interventions are identified to deliver desired outcomes and we hope this work will be of value in the forthcoming review of Resources and Waste Strategy.”

Focused on creating demand for secondary materials at the start of the manufacturing process, the Green Alliance research, meanwhile, is looking at measures to increase the use of secondary materials in three areas: plastic, steel and critical raw materials.

Green Alliance’s Libby Peake – “Critical raw materials, including the rare earth elements vital to low carbon technologies, are not on the danger list yet but the UK is a 100 percent importer of these materials, and they are currently almost entirely lost at the end of life”

“Plastics are a clear priority, and steel is vital to the UK’s infrastructure, but we currently import about as much steel as we export as scrap and UK foundries are struggling. Critical raw materials, including the rare earth elements vital to low carbon technologies, are not on the danger list yet but the UK is a 100 percent importer of these materials, and they are currently almost entirely lost at the end of life,” explains Green Alliance’s Libby Peake.

“We want to explore effective pull measures – such as minimum recycled content standards, green public procurement, and green taxes – that could boost the market for secondary materials.”

Defra’s deputy director of Waste & Recycling Chris Preston will then chair a the second morning session which explores how the UK might meet the target of “zero avoidable plastics waste by 2042” including role and ambition of The UK Plastics Pact being led by WRAP.

“Tackling the urgent problem of plastic pollution requires wholescale change,” says Peter Maddox, director of WRAP UK. “We are hugely excited by The UK Plastics Pact, the trailblazing world-first initiative led by WRAP, which will re-think and re-design the plastic packaging system in the UK.

“Through the Pact we will work together with business, governments and citizens to transform the way we make, use and dispose of plastic packaging so that we retain its value and prevent it from leaking into and polluting the environment.”

Packaging is not the only game in town, however and Jonathan Perry from Dell will talk about the challenges around reducing non-plastics packaging, while other speakers will look at the wider issues around microplastics and the vexing question of how bioplastics can help to meet this agenda will also be explored.

Bringing the topic back to markets, the closing two part plenary session homes in on current and future market, with an update on the latest situation with regard to export markets as the China restrictions continue to bite, and a second panel looking at the challenge of building more domestic reprocessing capacity and demand to support higher recycling and benefit the UK economy.

It’s a not to be missed event – for more information and the full programme click thebanner below…

Darrel Moore

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