Ten Point Plan

With Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan published at the start of the year and its Resources and Waste Strategy set for publication later this year, Biffa’s CEO, Ian Wakelin, discusses the key policy areas which need to be addressed


A fresh APPROACH – UK waste policy has largely focused on setting management measures after it has become a problem so, as “post-collection” material flows are largely invisible with materials reaching various outlets, producers often assume the problem solved. In recycling, the availability of offshore markets for secondary materials  has created complacency, low investment in UK infrastructure, and a lack of urgency on waste management at source. Current policy has delivered current performance. A different approach is required to achieve substantial improvement.


Greater producer RESPONSIBILITY– improvement will carry a cost. The principle of Extended Producer Responsibility is based on waste producers bearing greater financial responsibility for collection and treatment than they have under current policy – rather than passing costs and problems along the supply chain. Deposit return schemes for drinks containers and taxes on single use plastic, hard-to-recycle material, or virgin materials which compete with recycled, can all drive recycling rates. But, there is a cost impact that, at least initially, must be borne by consumers and waste producers.


Clarity, certainty, COLLABORATION – unrealistic ambitions will not help.  We need a clear and comprehensive national strategy setting out policies, SMART targets, drivers, responsibilities and KPIs. Long-term ambitions must be backed by short-term targets and achievable actions. The last national waste strategy was in 2011 and recycling performance has now plateaued. A policy review is overdue, made even more pertinent post-Brexit – the UK must set its own agenda. This must include better links between Government departments and strategy areas (Defra, BEIS and the Treasury/NIC), partnerships between England and the UK devolved administrations and proper collaboration with the waste management industry.


The importance OF SUPPLY CHAIN SOLUTIONS TO RECYCLING – China has highlighted the impact of disruption on supply chains. Sorting capability is not the problem. The issue is material complexity, unsuitability and the impact on recyclate output quality.  Better, simpler materials at the front end, designed with recyclability in mind, will deliver higher-quality outputs and greater attractiveness to reprocessors.


Eco-design – packaging and product design must fulfil its intended purpose but more must be done to factor in recylability at design stage – real recyclability, not just “theoretical”. Control over new products and packaging materials like bio-plastics will prevent greater complexity and public confusion.


It’s about RESOURCE USE AS WELL AS WASTE MANAGEMENT – currently, waste isn’t managed as an economic resource. Raw materials remain relatively cheap, while secondary materials are under-valued. Incentives to support their use will bolster markets and drive recycling. Combustible residual waste has a clear value as a fuel resource to help meet domestic needs. EfW plants are power stations fuelled by waste rather than coal, gas, or nuclear power and offer a diversion for residual, non-recyclable waste that would otherwise be landfilled.


Making recycling EASIER – clearer labelling and guidance will drive consumer behaviour, while greater collection consistency, focusing on key materials such as plastics, fibre (paper and card), dry mixed recycling, food and residual waste, will help address quality and end market needs. This thinking needs to be applied to business waste as much as household waste, which is where the focus has previously been.


Be realistic – targets must recognise limitations on what can be achieved in acceptable timescales and cost. Economically sustainable solutions give the best hope of advances in recycling remaining in place, without being propped up by subsidies or skewed economics. Technologies must be proven, investable and readily available.


Residual waste CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT BE IGNORED – we need to address EfW capacity shortfall for low-grade plastics with fuel value, as well as replacement landfill disposal capacity for other non-recyclable materials so that material is managed in a properly controlled system and does not end up as pollution or litter.


Tackling waste CRIME – criminal activity that undercuts legitimate service providers must be eliminated via a risk-based approach. Legitimate waste management services are part of the solution, not the problem.

Darrel Moore

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