Urgent call for resource security remanufacturing base

A report out by the World Bank suggesting that global municipal solid waste (MSW) is set to rise from 1.3bn to 2.2bn tonnes by 2025 should set alarm bells ringing for UK plc.

The report What a waste: a global review of solid waste management predicts that MSW growth is set to become as big a challenge as climate change. 

Most of the growth in waste is predicted to come from rapidly growing urban areas in developing countries. But this could pose a problem for the UK and Western Europe, according to waste experts, due to changing global supply patterns. 

As countries such as China and India start producing more of their own domestic waste they will have less need to take materials from other countries for reprocessing. 

“They are going to start producing their own recycled feedstocks. This will have a massive knock-on-effect,” said Dr Adam Read, global practice director for waste management and resource efficiency at consultancy AEA. 

Talking to edie,Read added: “The other parallel concern is around resource security. China has around 96% of rare earth metals, intrinsic to telecommunications and low carbon technologies. 

“These are the countries that are going to want ipads and mobile phones in the future so not only are they going to consume these materials they are going to localise the material stream.” 

Read predicts that this will result in material prices, and it turn consumer goods, rocketing. He argues that the UK needs to establish a strong remanufacturing industry, rather than sending waste abroad to be reprocessed. 

This will create jobs and also ensure that the UK has the raw materials needed to compete globally. “You would then have a trade-able item – at the moment all we have is trash,” added Read. 

“For every tonne of aggregate mined you get about 5 kilos of gold. For every tonne of mobile phones reprocessed you get around 50 kilos of gold.” 

He adds that sending waste to be burnt in incinerators in Europe instead of using it ourselves, when the UK is facing an energy crisis, is a short sighted move. 

“We haven’t got the big picture and we are not being strategic enough – we keep selling our materials on the cheap thinking we’ve got a deal but what we are really doing is undermining our future.” 

Speaking to edie, waste consultant Paul Levett agreed: “We need to see this as a big business opportunity for the UK waste industry – rather than export these materials we need to reprocess them here.”

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