Waste industry must adapt to climate change

A think tank made up of academics, regulators and industry experts is set to consider how the waste sector is likely to be affected by climate change and what it can do to adapt.

The recently established Waste Communications Partnership has been put together by the Oxford-based UK Climate Change Impact Programme (UKCCIP) and will include representatives from the Environment Agency, Local Government Association and trade bodies the Chartered Institute of Waste Management and the Environmental Services Association.

Similar partnerships have already been established in other sectors and provide a platform for interested parties to discuss the challenges likely to face industry as weather patterns change.

Mike Walker, director of policy at the ESA, told edie that the focus would be on how best to cope with the unavoidable effects of climate change rather than mitigation.

“It’s more about the adaptation side – the mitigation is still there and very important,” he said.

“Our sector produces about a third of the UK’s renewable energy and manages a large amount of carbon. We’re doing everything we can to continue extracting energy from waste and recycling as much as possible to reduce carbon emissions, and will continue to do so, but this partnership is about trying to increase awareness and help businesses prepare.

“We’ve all heard about the need to mitigate the impact of climate change by reducing CO2 emissions and the remains a political imperative.

“But change is happening now with more extreme weather events and rising temperatures and we need to adapt existing and future operations to take this into account.

“This is about getting the message out to our members and explaining the potential risks of climate change to their business.”

As well as trying to raise awareness about the need to adapt, the partnership will also be looking at specific scenarios and discussing how they might be managed.

Mr Walker described how, for example, climate change would need to be considered when developing new waste management facilities or looking at the future of exisiting sites.

“What happens if you’ve got a facility that’s already built which has never been subject to flooding but is now at risk?” he said.

“What are you going to do if it does get flooded in terms of capacity and continuing operations? These are the kinds of issues we will be considering.”

He said that rising temperatures in the UK would effect the way waste decomposes, which could impact on landfill and composting operations.

Increased heat in the workplace – be that a waste sorting unit or out on the streets making collections – also raises health and safety questions and could determine what can be expected of staff.

“There are all sorts of impacts that need to be considered. A lot of this is common sense, but it’s important that we take a step back and consider it as a whole so that we can advise our members on changes that might be necessary,” said Mr Walker.

With a membership made up of some of the sector’s key stakeholders, Mr Walker was confident the partnership would be more than a simple talking shop. As well as getting the message across that business needs to adapt to climate change now, it would be doing everything it could to encourage those it represented to take action on its advice.

Sam Bond

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