The Resourcing the Future (RTF) Conference saw lively debate, inspirational speakers and thought-provoking discussion covering extended producer responsibility, design, waste crime and deposit return schemes, as well as a platform to launch three important reports.
Against the backdrop of the Defra 25-year Environment Plan and the forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy, Resourcing the Future Conference 2018 – a partnership conference between CIWM, ESA, Resource Association and WRAP – provided an unprecedented opportunity to discuss and shape future policy.
RTF18 was a forum for resource and waste management professionals, policy experts, academics and government representatives to debate and help shape a new policy framework that supports the delivery of the “zero avoidable waste” vision.
Throughout the conference, highly interactive sessions saw lively debate, with day one’s practitioner-focused breakout workshops specifically focusing on areas of challenge or change.
Three reports were launched over the two-day event, with the first commissioned by the RTF partners. Research into the elimination of avoidable plastic waste, delivers a novel use-phase model to categorise plastic products; a Green Alliance report considers increasing the use of three secondary materials and how legislation and fiscal instruments could boost the market for secondary materials; and finally, a techUK report looks at reuse, repair and remanufacture in the ICT sector.
Resources & Waste Strategy
A “whole system” approach is needed in the Government’s forthcoming Resources & Waste Strategy if it is to have any impact, Shaun Gallagher, Director, Environmental Quality, Defra, said as he addressed delegates during the keynote session of day one.
He said the strategy will show Defra has pushed for engagement right across government and that this is needed because resources present a growth opportunity economically as well as being an environmental issue.
He said the range of actions likely to be published will revolve around the whole lifecycle of products and will also look at specific waste streams in greater detail. A section on waste crime will also be included, building on Defra’s recent announcement that it intends to “beef up” action against organised waste crime. It was announced that CIWM’s CEO, Dr Colin Church, will sit on an advisory panel for its review on waste crime.
Expected to feed into this “whole system” approach is a deposit return system (DRS) for England and a closer look at producer responsibility. A consultation to gain views on what a DRS might look like will also be published, he said.
Again, Mr Gallagher said, referring to any DRS, said that no single intervention can stand alone and that they must connect to the “whole system”. Vitally, he said we can expect the strategy to stimulate demand for secondary materials market.
In terms of how the EU’s Circular Economy Package (CEP) might influence this strategy, Mr Gallagher referred the Clean Air Strategy, saying this incorporates actions that go further than those set out in European obligations. He said a similar approach will be adopted with the forthcoming RWS.
Despite not being able to offer a definite date for the publication of the strategy, Mr Gallagher said Defra is keen to progress “with pace” and that they’re “not hanging around”. But he said it’s vital the strategy is comprehensive, including whole systems change which connect.
Interestingly, Mr Gallagher appeared to rule out that the strategy would include plans for a pay as you throw (PAYT) system to increase recycling among householders, but said statutory targets for councils, among other measures, were being looked into.
Plastics Not The Enemy
Plastic isn’t the enemy when it comes to plastics in the marine environment, the issue comes from how plastic is used and disposed of. This was the message from marine litter expert, Richard Thompson OBE, on day two.
Addressing delegates, Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit, University of Plymouth, said the issue of waste, in particular plastic waste in the marine environment, has never been higher on the Government’s agenda and never more in the focus of the public.
But with this, there’s a risk of a “knee jerk” reaction, which could lead to unintended consequences, instead of looking at the “right decision”.
Professor Thompson’s message was that plastics are useful; they’re lightweight, durable and versatile. The challenge is how to keep the benefits of plastics without suffering the negative consequences.
Plastic debris is a symptom of an inefficient and outdated business model, he told delegates, and it’s not directly coupled to “societal benefits”. He outlined the issue developing countries have due to poor waste management, and the issue in developed countries due to an increased amount of waste.
There are solutions, he said… but there is no single solution.
Professor Thompson said, for him, it’s not about taking actions such as plastics free supermarket aisles, where we can potentially lose the usefulness of plastic in mitigating food waste, it’s about addressing the problem at the design stage, ensuring products are designed with end of life in mind, and moving the material in the most circular way possible.
When asked about the role bioplastics have to play, he conceded they’re part of the solution but not a silver bullet, and that to be truly helpful they need to be designed in a way that means they will degrade in the natural environment. How this can be done while retaining integrity during its use, however, remains to be discovered.
Delegates were asked in a poll what would be the most effective policy/fiscal measure to reduce plastic packaging waste? 55% said to introduce differentiated EPR fees to stimulate eco-design and recycled content; 21% said to ban / tax single-use plastics; 13% said to increase plastic packaging recycling targets; and 11% said to introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic (and other) containers.
In another plastics-based poll 42% of delegates were of the opinion that enabling easier recycling should be the top focus for non-packaging plastics.
“Blue Planet Effect”
A panel debate entitled: Future Resource and Waste Strategy – Made Smarter, Designed Smarter, included speakers from frozen food retailers, Iceland, AO Recycling, SUEZ, TechUK and Leeds University. The session was chaired by BusinessGreen editor-in-chief, James Murray.
Topics covered in this session included maximising resource productivity, maximising the value of resources through their lifetime and managing materials at end of life.
Confirming the change in the attitude of the public towards recycling, AO Recycling’s Anthony Sant said it had seen a huge change the mindset of its customers. He also said Michael Gove, as well as the “Blue Planet effect”, has helped bring the issue to the forefront.
Despite this, it was conceded that there’s a lot of work to do to make recycling easier for people, and that the attitude that it’s “someone else’s responsibility” isn’t changing fast enough.
Interestingly, each of the panel members were asked if they could make one recommendation to Michael Gove for consideration in the forthcoming RWS, what would it be?
SUEZ’s Stuart Hayward-Higham said to treat the industry as one value chain; Leeds University’s Professor John Barrett said to create partnerships across the industry; AO Recycling’s Anthony Sant said to look into the sector’s visibility and into a rating system; TechUK’s Susanne Baker said better data on waste and resources; and Iceland’s Richard Parker said to make recycling simple for householders to do the right thing.
To consider new incentives and VAT reductions for repair activities and to encourage take-up of innovative digital technologies that can support repair, were also among the recommendations by Susanne.
She said the waste sector was behind other sectors when it comes to how digital technology can shape how things will be done in the future.
A number of polls were conducted over the course of the two days, taking a snapshot of what delegates think on a number of relevant sector issues.
When asked: “What measure would most effectively ‘mainstream’ resource productivity and efficiency across UK industry, not just the big brands?”, 50% of delegates said “Extended Producer Responsibility policy that rewards resource efficient design”, while 33% said: “Set a legally binding UK resource productivity target”.
When asked how important it will be to move away from weight-based to environmentally-focused targets, 61% said it was “important”, 26% said “extremely important”, while 13% said it wasn’t very important at all.
Interestingly, 53% of delegates said they were “moderately” concerned with the Chinese and potentially other export market restrictions and their impact on future UK recycling performance, while 27% said they weren’t very concerned at all. 18% said they were “extremely concerned”, while 2% said not at all.
When asked: “Does the sector have sufficient understanding of the reprocessing infrastructure in the other export markets where materials are now being sent?”, a staggering 96% of delegates said “no”.