Waste as a resource: Five industry viewpoints…

The commonly accepted waste hierarchy is not working and two centuries of the 'take-make-waste' ethos are degrading the health of global ecosystems. In light of this, Liz Gyekye asks a few industry experts to explain whether waste should instead be treated as a valuable resource.

1. Cloud Sustainability chief executive Dan Botterill 

“This term we constantly hear banded around about waste being a valuable resource is nonsense. This is nothing more than two dimensional propaganda from the waste management contractors and people too lazy to tackle the core problem.

“Waste is not a valuable resource. It more often than not arises as an output of an inefficient process. We need to stop using this out-dated mantra/way of thinking and shake things up a bit.”

2. Eternity Capital director Alon Laniado

“Waste streams, at least many of them, are valuable. Due to landfill becoming less viable and to new treatment technologies becoming available, an increasing number of waste streams are either being reused or recycled as a substitute to virgin material or being converted into energy.

“This is already the case for many strands of plastics, electronic, glass and organics wastes. Further waste streams are expected to follow as barriers to treatment will continue to decline and demonstrated by the high recycling rate of other European countries.” 

3. Ricardo-AEA Resource Efficiency & Waste Management practice director Adam Read

“Waste is a mix of valuable materials, or embedded energy, ‘but’ in the wrong hands, wrong place or wrong time. The role of the waste sector, or now the resources sector is to help align markets, logistics and materials to enable the release of this embedded energy and value. This is clearly happening as increasing recycling tonnage and quality secures better market prices, whilst increasing renewable incentives are helping to encourage the release of heat and power from residual wastes.

“Obviously, not producing waste in the first place would reduce the management burden (environmental, economic and social), but just because something is a waste does not mean it has no role/value. Just look at charity ships on the high street, reuse shops at HWRC sites and increasing focus on quality recyclate – this would not be happening if there was only a political incentive… with so little leadership from Government, materials and energy are being segregated, processed and utilised because of their inherent value.

“Our real problem is the terminology… waste suggests dirty, unwanted, and contaminated. The public see the sector as downstream, polluting, and a burden. The real issue is to educate waste producers about the value inherent in waste products, off-cuts and residuals from consumption and production, and to encourage them to play their part in segregation to ensure materials are available and accessible for value recovery… something for our leading politicians to consider this New Year.

4. Chartered Environmentalist Mike Tregent

“The waste industry is a £100m-plus industry, with recycling and recovery of waste at its core. People are realising value from what the rest of us throw away and reducing carbon emissions as opposed to producing the materials from virgin sources. If however, you look at all waste from the point of view of prevention, then it can be seen as an indicator of inefficiency. These inefficiencies are costs to the production process and have associated emissions.

5. itsCollected.com founder and chief executive Kae Faeff

“Part of the problem lies in the terms – resource often has positive connotations, and waste is almost an antonym.  Preventing waste generation in the first place probably would save the resources involved in doing something about the waste after production.

“However, once waste is produced, and waste will always be produced to a certain extent, however rich or poor we are, it is a resource. Perhaps we are not taking full advantage of this resource, but this does not make it any less valuable.”

This article first appeared in the January 2015 edition of LAWR, out now. To subscribe, click here, and view the digital edition here.

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