UK economy ‘in great danger’ from raw materials crisis

The Government must take urgent action on the UK's pending raw material crunch and set up a rapid response unit to co-ordinate Whitehall activity on potential resource threats to the economy.

The stark warning was sounded today from a consortium of business and environmental organisations in a joint letter from the material security working group, which includes manufacturers’ lobby group EEF, British Glass, the Packaging Federation, Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment, and the Resource Association.

The group is calling for a new office of resource management to be set up, led by ministers, and for the Government’s own resource security action plan to be strengthened and ambitions raised.

It claims that increasing global demand coupled with rapidly degrading ecosystems is already putting pressure on supplies of some raw materials.

The cost of raw materials has risen substantially in recent years, with commodity price rises in the last decade alone wiping out a century-long decline.

Despite recent fluctuations, material prices are projected to escalate as three billion people join the global middle classes, putting pressure on fragile ecosystems.

In future a greater number of materials – from wood, plastic and rubber to the rare earth metals used to make every day electronic products and low-carbon technologies – are likely to be increasingly costly.

The group is also calling for a ban preventing recyclable materials being sent to energy-from-waste plants and landfills unless there is an environmental and economic case for doing so.

As part of this, it wants to see a task force set up to review existing targets and recommend policy changes to improve recycling.

EEF’s head of climate & environment policy Gareth Stace argued that the Government’s resource security action plan “falls short” of meeting future challenges and could potentially put the UK economy at risk.

“Government must now step up its ambitions and produce a bolder plan of action that deals with the challenges, not just now but in the longer term,” he said.

“This is vital not just from an environmental perspective, but to ensure a long term sustainable future for manufacturing and the wider economy.”

A recent EEF survey found that 80% of senior manufacturing executives considered limited access to raw materials was already a business risk and a threat to growth. For one in three companies it was their top risk.

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie