Waste sector will 'die out' unless it embraces rapid change
The waste industry must reinvent itself in preparation for a circular economy if it is to have a vibrant future, leading policy-makers and economists have warned.
At the opening session of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management's (CIWM) annual conference this morning (June 12) a panel of resource experts spoke of the importance of the growing appetite for a society in which waste will be effectively designed out - and challenged waste companies to start realigning their business models fast.
In a stark call to action, David Fell, director of Brook Lyndhurst, told delegates: "I think in the long run you're dead, there won't be a waste industry at all. All manufacturers will have integrated waste management into their existing production processes. By 2040 to 2045, there will not be enough waste for the sector to manage on the supply side."
SITA UK's CEO David Palmer-Jones said that part of the problem was that the industry "still clings onto the word waste" and that fundamental changes in attitude were required, but the current micro approach to waste management in the UK was hampering that re-examination.
He said: "Unfortunately we are trapped in a local approach in UK. This micro management of what is a macro issue prevents us from seeing the true value and potential of a green economy."
Echoing this, Professor Ian Williams who specialises in applied environmental science at Southampton University, said that a lack of hard-nosed decision-making at government level was partly to blame, and referred to Communities Minister Eric Pickles' push for a return to weekly bin collections - a decision that was more about pleasing the public than based on sound evidence, he claimed.
"We are not as good as we should be at translating our technical know-how into business opportunities ... this comes down to a lack of a macro strategy for resource use, we are left vulnerable to local political issues," he argued.
Chief economist at Cisco Climate Change Practice Dimitri Zenghelis said that the challenge globally was to decouple resource use from growth, but that this was "clearly going to be difficult" even if there was strong leadership from government and business leaders.
He spoke of the need for incentives and pricing. "Global resources are not priced to reflect their scarcity ... it is the reason we've got so greedy with resource use," he added.
The issue of incentives was also touched upon by Julie Hill, an associate at the Green Alliance, who called for better use of fiscal drivers to accelerate the shift the waste sector must go through if it is to operate effectively within a circular economy.
"We know where we want to get to, but we don't know how to get there. We lack the incentives to do this," she maintained.
"[A circular economy] is about marrying up product design with our systems of recovery. Our sector is part of that, but we don't have the incentives to join it up into that circle. The crux is how do you get everyone to do things in the right way? Some major instruments and investments are needed."