The great leap forward

CIWM chief executive Steve Lee identifies how the waste industy must change if it is to forge ahead, and calls for a united front to make it happen

CIWM’s 2006 conference and exhibition is where the whole waste and resources industry comes together, and come together it must. We face a pace of change and conflicting demands as never before, and it will take all of us to see them through.

The theme for the conference this year is ‘Changing the face of waste management’. Uniquely, this is an industry that has an opportunity and a requirement to move to value-added services, to upgrade technology, and up-skill. There are three main reasons for this. Firstly, we have to because environmental and waste policy is European-led. Targets on biodegradable waste to landfill, electrical equipment and packaging are beginning to bite. Woe (or fines) betide us if we fail.

Secondly, we have to change because it’s what we want. Waste is in the public spotlight. People want cleaner safer streets – a recent survey shows 79% think our streets are dirty. People want their environment and health protected. They also want to recycle more, but it has to be made easy to do. Thirdly, we have to change because we ought to. We need action to build a more sustainable future, linking energy policy with climate change and waste/resources policy.

These pressures don’t always mesh neatly. We want to compost more but need to control what we add to our precious soil. We must recover more energy from our post recycling waste before final disposal – but new facilities are hard won and still thin on the ground. And we don’t have a lot of time. Cheap and none-too-cheerful landfill has had its day.

The future needs to be fought for

So, the future won’t just fall into our lap. It has to be planned and financed, balancing what we need with what we want, and what we can and want to afford. We need information, skills and best practice – and we need them designed to fit our needs as councillors or composters, as public or practitioner, because we all have responsibilities in delivering the future of more sustainable waste and resources management. The future infrastructure also has to be built, operated and controlled; and services have to be designed, equipped, trained and delivered.

This is where CIWM has most to offer. If the future won’t fall into our lap, neither will informed and skilled people to make it happen. We exist to build and maintain a professional body of knowledge and to put that knowledge to work – as an authoritative voice for this vital industry and to help build the people who will change the face of waste management.

For local authorities that includes the elected members responsible for planning and environment, and for cleansing, collection and treatment/disposal services. They need to know about targets and technologies, and they have to show leadership as almost any waste decision can be contentious and/or hinge on public acceptance and participation.

Official duties

Officers have to keep on top of everything – a tough job at any time. The next twelve months alone will bring changes to: the Duty of Care; full implementation of the Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act; WEEE producer responsibility; and new waste strategies for England and Northern Ireland – never mind DEFRA’s new waste data strategy, new agricultural waste controls and compost standards.

And the public are probably the hardest but most important audience for all of us to reach. I doubt if many members of the public will come to our conference and exhibition, but local authority members and officers should be, and will be, there in force along with the rest of the industry coming together.

There are conference sessions on the political reality of delivering strategies, new technologies, communication with the public. In fact our programme is twice as big as ever this year. These are the times we will look back on – to see if we made a change that lasts. I believe we can and as part of making it happen. I hope to see you in Torbay in June.

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