Recruiting for a zero waste landscape

The UK's quest to improve its waste to landfill ratios should open the doors for career development in the industry, observes Paul Gosling

The UK came out well in a recent report from the European Commission (EC) on waste management which graded the 27 member states against key criteria such as recycling rates, disposal costs and breaches in legislation. However where we did fall down was on our continued heavy reliance on landfill.

Commenting on the findings of the study, European Environment Commissioner Janez Potonik said that many regions throughout Europe are still landfilling huge amounts of municipal waste, despite better alternatives and in some cases, available funding. There is mounting pressure on these regions to deliver a more sustainable waste management solution and with that there is also an increased requirement for more waste jobs to be created.

This is reflected in the study, where the member states with the largest implementation gaps include Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic and Greece. Failings include poor waste prevention policies and a lack of incentives to divert waste from landfills. This reliance on landfilling often means that more sustainable waste management options are consistently overlooked and that progress is impeded.

The UK is continuing to make progress in its efforts to boost recycling rates and reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill. According to new provisional figures released in last month by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), waste sent to landfill by local authorities fell 11% last year to 10.1m tonnes, which is great news.

However, there is some way to go before we reach those zero targets or even the aim set out in the 2011 Government Review of Waste Policy, of recycling 50% of household waste by 2020. For the UK to achieve its aim of being a zero waste economy, we may have to consider introducing landfill bans on recyclable materials such as wood and food waste.

The criteria where the UK collected its only ‘red flag’ in the EC study was under this specific area: “Point 2.1 – Existence of ban/restrictions for the disposal of municipal waste into landfills”. A landfill ban on recyclable waste commodities would complement the landfill tax and ensure that the maximum value is extracted from reusable materials.

A recent case study of Hackney Borough Council highlights how 4,000kg of food waste can be processed into compost for local agricultural use every year and similarly in Tyneside, a waste management programme between the local authority and SITA, will divert at least 60,000 tonnes from landfill each year, to be converted into electricity at SITA’s energy-from-waste facility at Tees Valley.

These are brilliant local initiatives; however, they are a drop in the ocean when you consider that 7.2m tonnes of food waste alone is still being produced every year in the UK. Schemes such as those in Hackney and Tyneside are an example of the movement towards sustainable waste management, and we would expect to see increased government investment and further commitment from the business community.

If the UK is indeed one of the top performing European members, we need to see a seismic shift to reach our ambitious waste targets for 2020 and beyond. The EC claims that full implementation of EU waste legislation would save €72bn a year, increase the annual turnover of the EU waste management and recycling sector by €42bn and create more than 400,000 jobs by 2020.

Encouragingly in the UK we have been witnessing an increase of sustainable waste job opportunities for some time, especially in the energy recovery sector for positions such as technical director and project manager. This is not only an encouraging sign, but offers waste professional areas in which to learn new skills.

Paul Gosling is managing director (UK & Europe) at Allen & York

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