Both diversion strategies are being driven by the advent of circular economy thinking, which is now gaining traction at EU level. The European Commission is widely expected to announce details of new proposals to help EU member states unlock their potential for circularity at its annual Green Week conference in Brussels later this week.

A report released by the RWM event today, in collaboration with several industry trade associations and think tanks, has assessed the latest trends driving resource efficiency in the UK and highlighted the role of reuse and high value material extraction as key enablers in powering the shift from linear to circular business models.

“The potential market value of materials reused and recycled in the UK is hard to estimate, but could be a significant contributor to GDP growth. A major market opportunity is the identification and development of sorting and reprocessing facilities that can help to close the loop in the UK,” the report stated.

One of the contributors to the report, Ricardo-AEA’s practice director for resource efficiency Dr Adam Read, said measures needed to be taken to encourage key stakeholders to retain the value of resources within their supply chains.

“Waste prevention and reuse should increasingly become a priority in local decisions regarding investment in infrastructure,” he argued, adding that wider uptake of extended producer responsibility was expected in the coming years, and that this would start to shape future waste collection and treatment systems across Europe.

The industry itself is expected to expand – the UK Treasury has forecast growth of 3.1% for waste management and 4% for recovery and recycling for 2013/14. The recycling sector alone now generates more than £10bn in sales, compared to the industry as a whole which collectively generated more than £12bn in value for the goods and services it produced in 2010/11.

Targeted approach

Unlocking the use of waste materials in new products increasingly depends on smarter reprocessing of the recyclates, and more innovative collection systems to preserve the quality of the material as it passes through the treatment chain.

In terms of specific material streams, specialist waste such as WEEE is forecast to grow in value and more targeted reuse and recovery strategies could help accelerate this, according to one industry observer, Ian Goodfellow (ex-UK managing director of Shanks Group).

“We will see more focus on the recovery of materials for reuse and remanufacture as part of a circular economy. This will result in less materials going for export as more and more will be used within the UK,” he predicted.

Goodfellow further highlighted a need for reassurance that manufacturers would be able to get both a regular and quality supply of materials from the waste stream, and said that the MRF protocol would become increasingly important in achieving this.

“The emphasis will be on delivering quality materials,” he said. “We are likely to see waste management companies consolidate over the coming years, there will be fewer acquisitions and more emphasis on becoming a ‘good collector’ or a ‘good processor’ rather than a ‘we can provide any service you want’ type of approach.”

Maxine Perella

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