Waste industry calls for ‘urgent Government intervention’ to drive UK circular economy

Whilst UK recycling rates continue to creep upwards, "urgent Government intervention" is needed to create a more resilient waste collection system that transforms the nation into a world-leader when it comes to waste and resource management.

That is the view put forward by industry group the Environmental Services Association (ESA), which has this week outlined four recommendations for the UK Government to ensure that recycling and landfill diversion rates “do not go backwards”.

The ESA’s new “Delivering Sustainable Growth” report highlights that, while recycling rates in the UK have increased by around 45% since the early 1990s, the rising costs associated with waste management need to be tackled by policymakers.

“The sector is helping to deliver growth for the Exchequer and thousands of jobs for the nation,” ESA’s executive director Jacob Hayler said. “However, rising costs and depressed commodity markets are putting immense pressure on the sector, and urgent Government intervention is required to ensure the UK can continue to manage its resources in both an environmentally and economically sustainable way.”

Four recommendations

The new report outlines four areas that the Government must focus on to push towards a circular economy, while simultaneously highlighting the social and environmental benefits that the waste and resource management sector can benefit from.

First, the report urges the Government to develop “more resilient” recovery markets for waste-derived products by stimulating a market and demand for recycled products. The ESA believes that, by encouraging the uptake of recyclable material, the UK could build on its 45% recycling figure while maintaining the economic prosperity of the market.

Second, the ESA is calling on the Government to implement new frameworks which would transfer resource and waste ownership from local authorities to product supply chains. The ESA claim that the new frameworks would improve the quality of recycled materials, as well as driving resource efficiency and strengthening investment and competition in the market as companies become incentivised to design collection systems.

Third, the ESA calls for improved efficiency of the waste collection systems and infrastructure. By collaborating with local authorities, the ESA believes that companies can increase recycling yields and reduce system costs.

And fourth, the ESA estimates that the public sector loses £568m each year through unpaid landfill tax and clean-up costs, and as such the organisation is urging the Government to reduce waste crime by reviewing and introducing more stringent requirements for permit holders.

Circular drive

By implementing these recommendations, the ESA believes that the UK can accelerate the transition to a circular economy model, which would increase recycling rates as well as improving the amount of renewable electricity derived from waste, which currently stands at 12%.

The report includes a number of case studies, including the efforts from Viridor to implement a zero waste-to-landfill policy at its sites, as proof that wast management companies are beginning to adopt closed-loop models.

Since 1990, the sector has worked to reduce emissions by 70%, with initiatives such as Biffa’s food waste infrastructure push, and Veolia’s recent adaptation of closed-loop models to cater for energy and heat, at the forefront of the shift.

Delivering Sustainable Growth

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Matt Mace

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