Unlocking The Real Value Of Our Waste

19th January, 2011
Pressure on local authorities to recycle more to avoid exceeding their landfill allowance is creating the risk of a ?quantity not quality? approach to processing waste according to a new report from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

In its State of the Nation: Waste and Resource Management 2011, ICE calls for a waste sector ?evolution?, where the quality of recycled materials becomes as important as the quantity. This would lead to waste being seen as a resource and a saleable commodity rather than something that requires disposal.

Annette Dentith, Principal Waste Manager for Devon County Council and ICE SW Waste Special Interest Group Chairman said: ?Although the South West has a very good record for materials recycling, there is always more to do. To further reduce the quantities of waste to landfill and to develop viable and deliverable alternative waste management technologies, local authorities, planners, the waste industry and the public in the South West need to work even more closely together to develop a coherent way forward.

?To become part of a new waste economy we must find the most cost-effective solutions for the whole range of waste types and ensure that we utilise the most appropriate waste technologies, working across boundaries and in conjunction with each other.?

ICE says the progression to a ?circular economy? - where recovered and recycled materials are of a high enough quality to be bought back into use, could contribute 10% to CO2 reduction due to the reduced demand for raw materials. Most recycled materials have a lower CO2 footprint, for example, 50% less energy is required to recycle paper compared with making it from raw materials1.

Nigel Mattravers, Past Chairman of ICE Waste Management Board and Director of Grant Thornton, said:  ?The UK?s waste management policy has been too narrowly focused on diverting domestic waste from landfill and local authorities are stepping up to the challenge to avoid fines by increasing the quantity of recycled material. But we still need more action also to improve the quality of the material being salvaged from both domestic, industrial and commercial waste. Without this, the UK could generate increasingly poor quality recycled materials for which there are few buyers. Ironically, their most likely final destination would then be landfill.

?In a world driven by carbon reduction and global competition for resources, it is time for the UK waste industry to evolve from a disposal sector into a ?supply? sector that unlocks the real economic value of materials in a low carbon fashion, contributing significantly to both material and energy security. This means collecting, sorting and reprocessing reusable materials based on their physical characteristics and the economic potential for their reuse.?

Overhauling the waste sector will require a huge step change in how Government approaches waste management and, according to ICE, a further ?10-20bn investment over the next decade to upgrade waste infrastructure and build on the progress already made. It is anticipated that the bulk of this investment would need to come from the private sector.

Mr Mattravers continued: ?New central government funding for the waste PFI programme has now drawn to a close, so the onus is on the Government to create an environment that will encourage private investment and develop new thinking on how waste facilities could be funded. This will be critical in ensuring the progression to a ?resource rich? culture in the UK and a waste and resources sector that is environmentally and economically sound.?

The ICE report recommends that Government:

  • Sets out clear goals in the overlapping areas of waste management, renewable energy generation, CO2 reduction and materials security, so potential investors are clear on the priorities and can be confident that infrastructure built now will be fit for purpose in the future. This should include timescales, areas of interdependency and conflict.
  • Consider utilising some of the ?842m per year generated by Landfill Tax to help capitalise the proposed Green Investment Bank, and support the roll out of new low carbon waste technologies.
  • Deliver a National Policy Statement to set out existing capacity and future needs of the UK?s waste infrastructure.
  • Create an Office for Resource Management to act as a single point of accountability and authority to drive action and help create the optimum conditions for delivery by local government, community groups and the private sector.
  • Given constraints on DEFRA?s budget, ensure the Technology Strategy Board and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council support research in the area of waste and ensure new waste technologies are developed at a commercial scale ? this will help ?de-risk? new waste technologies.
  • Ensure Local authorities take an active role in engaging with communities to promote the benefits of resource management and fully empower them to negotiate with developers to deliver wide benefits to communities where waste facilities are located (e.g. the provision of heat for community facilities such as swimming pools sited near Combined Heat & Power plants).  Opposition to waste facilities leads to a lengthy and highly uncertain decision making process, which makes projects riskier and costlier.

The situation for the South West will be explored in a seminar on the 27th January 2011. For more details contact ICE South West 01752 895426.