Defra engages in ‘systems thinking’ to inform future waste policy

Defra has called in consultants to help advise on how it can incorporate more holistic thinking into its waste policies and build up a better evidence base to support these protocols.

The government department has enlisted the help of Sustain to lead a consortium of experts engaged in the field of waste management. Much of the work will centre on developing better in-house systems thinking and system dynamics modelling skills.

Specifically, these methods will be applied to the development of a waste prevention programme for England and in enhancing the evidence base of packaging waste recycling.

By taking a systems thinking approach, this should enable policy makers to deal with complexities by understanding and capturing dynamic interactions between policy, infrastructure, stakeholders, and material flows – and how these evolve over time.

The consortium’s work is part of the Government’s long term plans to work towards a zero waste economy.

According to Sustain’s head of product & supply chain Dr Jean-Yves Cherruault, those heading up the department realised it was important to have a deeper understanding of how various parts of the waste system interact with each other.

“Waste is a complex problem with a multitude of stakeholders, including consumers, local authorities, retailers and manufacturers,” he said, adding that there would be two principal outcomes of the project.

“Firstly, a group of policy makers, analysts and other experts within Defra will gain better knowledge of and hands-on experience in systems thinking and system dynamics modelling to support their work.

“Secondly, Defra staff will develop two different systems models – a qualitative system diagram of the system of product production and use, focusing on waste prevention through activities such as repair and reuse, and a quantitative dystem dynamics model of packaging waste recycling in different sectors and for different waste streams.”

The consortium comprises a number of advisory organisations alongside Sustain including modelling experts and software providers, Bristol University and waste management firm Veolia.

Maxine Perella

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