A national wish list for waste prevention

In light of the Government's recently published waste prevention programme, Eunomia has produced a short waste prevention wish list - simple measures which could make a real difference

Waste prevention has real potential – not only can it enhance resource efficiency for business and advance the UK’s commitment towards a circular economy, it can also lead to wider positive impacts within society. Eunomia has outlined five key measures that it believes could be transformative if adopted on a national scale.

The first of these is introducing ‘pay as you throw’ for household waste, a controversial scheme as it introduces penalties for those householders who are the biggest waste producers. However it has been proven to be a strong waste prevention instrument – Eunomia points to examples within Europe where well-designed schemes can be expected to bring about a reduction of 10% in the tonnage of household waste generated.

It further argues that the implementation of ‘pay as you throw’ increases the effectiveness of further interventions such as reusable nappies. Such schemes could also help clamp down on illegal activity within the commercial waste sector as the opportunities for businesses to dump their waste in household bins would be significantly reduced.

The second measure is to introduce a levy on all single use carrier bags – according to Eunomia, this would avoid the arguments about the relative impacts of paper versus plastic (including biodegradable plastic) bags, and more fully respect the waste hierarchy. As single use carrier bags are one of the most visible components of litter, an exemption free levy could not only prevent waste but improve local environmental quality.

Perhaps the most interesting suggestion is to establish a network of public water fountains that would include taps are refilling water bottles. These would be sited in prominent locations such as railway stations, city centres and parks. The idea behind these is to displace bottled water which carries a heavy environmental impact. According to research, the energy requirements to produce bottled water are far higher than for tap water – up to 300 times greater in the case of some imported brands.

Eunomia says that water companies could be encouraged to sponsor these fountains, showcasing the quality of water available direct from the tap. The fountains would not only help citizens save money, but reduce the risk of dehydration, which is of growing importance given the increased likelihood of heat waves in future years. Thus this initiative carries a strong public health benefit.

Adoption of the food waste hierarchy is the next measure outlined within Eunomia’s wish list. The idea was originally proposed by campaign group Feeding the 5000 and would work by redirecting surplus food generated from businesses to charities and organisations for redistribution to people in need. Any food that is unfit for human consumption would be channelled into livestock feed wherever possible, and legally permissible.

Eunomia says that reviving the key elements of the Food Waste Bill which was unsuccessfully brought before Parliament last year should also be a priority, as the measures it contained would brief prevent waste and tackle some of the genuine hardship faced by many of those currently struggling to make ends meet. The bill itself proposed to place a legal obligation on large supermarkets manufacturers to donate a certain percentage of the surplus food for redistribution.

The last suggestion is to set reuse targets for local authorities. This could initially target selected waste streams such as household furniture and electrical items before being extended to other goods. Eunomia points out that many reuse organisations are struggling to access sufficient reusable goods and as a result are forced to buy new items in order to meet their social objectives.

In 2012/13 the Furniture Reuse Network reused 2.7 million items of furniture and electrical equipment. Their figures suggest this equates to 110,000 t of waste prevented, leading to a reported saving to low income families across the UK in the order of around 350 million. Based on current demand, the charity is confident that it could double the amount of reuse if supply were to increase.

In summing up its wish list, Eunomia acknowledged that the ideas weren’t “rocket science” but were strong measures that could be expected to have a long-term positive impact on not only waste reduction but wider social issues such as poverty, mental health, hunger and farming. “We believe they are ideas that can capture the public’s imagination, in a way that targets that talk about gradual, small percentage increases in waste cannot,” the company commented.

“A key challenge of waste prevention is to help people understand what it looks like, what they can do to help, and the Kaiser practical measures that would enable us all to waste a lot less.”

Eunomia is a waste management consultancy

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie