Waste: Just resource in the wrong place

Most of us who work in resource management and sustainability know there is an enormous amount of value locked up in the UK's waste stream. But what we lack are policy levers with teeth, ones that can really bite to effect change and release this potential.

Sure, some progress has been made. But it is sluggish, bogged down by political apathy, and it doesn't need to be. At a breakfast meeting held in Whitehall last week, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)released a ‘state of the nation' report on waste and resource management, an evidence gathering exercise from over 50 organisations involved in the industry.

In the report, ICE says the progression to a ‘circular economy' – where recovered and recycled materials are of high enough quality to be routinely bought back into use – could not only reduce demand for raw materials, but see the waste industry contribute 10% towards carbon reduction for the UK economy as a whole. 

It argues that policy and regulation has become too preoccupied by landfill diversion tactics, and the industry really needs to undergo a transformation if it is to realise its dream – to evolve from a disposal sector to a supply sector. Basically for all our sustainable achievements, we still need to treat our waste streams better, and more efficiently. 

Dr Alan Whitehead MP, chair of the All Party Sustainable Resource Group, spoke at the launch and hit the nail on the head when he said: "When we are talking about waste, we are talking about resource in the wrong place." What's lacking, and slightly worrying, is whether we have the vision to really see this – it's not just about linking up waste and resource management, it's also about slotting it into the wider energy resource economy.

According to Dr Whitehead, the Government is failing to recognise the real contribution of energy-from-waste, viewing it more as a disposal activity than one of energy production. "Energy-from-waste could provide a substantial element of the baseload and back up capacity for our future energy needs … but I see no sign of it being incorporated into our national energy strategy."

Going forward, much depends on our Government. An uneasy coalition which is still finding its feet, particularly around green issues. Some of its early actions around planning and localism have not gone down well with many of those who fed into ICE's report. Whether future policy strategy will find more favour remains to be seen – the forthcoming Waste Review should hold some answers there.

maxine perella

Topics: edie
Tags: carbon reduction | Circular economy | energy from waste | localism | planning | resource management
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