Waste management research needs more money

There is insufficient knowledge in the industry as to how a number of waste streams should be dealt with, according to new research. A study published by a new waste forum has revealed that the most serious gaps in knowledge are in agricultural, electrical and electronic, contaminated soil and liquid wastes.

The Forum for Waste and Resource Research and Development (FORWARRD), a new forum for discussing waste management issues (see related story) had its first meeting on 2 December. The industry is having to face up to new and forthcoming legislation, such as the European directives on landfill and contaminated soil and packaging. The question under discussion at the forum was how this can be achieved.

FORWARRD’S new study reveals that in particular, there is a serious gap in knowledge of how to reduce waste and change behaviour in the agriculture industry, and how to change behaviour regards waste electrical and electronic goods. Other areas of concern include how to reduce and recover contaminated soil and how to reduce liquid waste.

“This is not a recipe book with a huge list of ideas,” said principal author of the FORWARRD report, Alan Potter of Golder Associates. He added that the report could be out of date within a year, due to due to current waste and resources that is currently being carried out. Further work must also be done to identify research being carried out around world in order to take advantage of existing experience elsewhere.

In 2001, nearly £50 million was spent on research into waste management, 66% coming from the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme (LTCS), 22% from research councils, 8% from the Government’s Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), and the remaining 4% from the Environment Agency.

On 27 November, the Government published a report by its think tank, the Strategy Unit, which included a call for an increase from 11% to 45% recycling of household waste (see related story). But, municipal waste accounts for only 7% of the UK’s 422 million tonnes of waste produced every year, costing the country £3.5 billion in industry expenses, noted Professor Stephan Jefferis, Chairman of FORWARRD. However, the actual cost to the country could be double, he said.

“R&D as a whole appears to be omitted from anything that the Government has announced,” said FORWARRD Project Manager Mike Head. The new report was originally intended to encourage planning and co-ordination of research and development programmes. Following the Strategy Unit’s report, it is also hoped that it will “discourage this myopic approach based in municipal solid waste”. We can’t wait for the rest of the world to develop the appropriate technology, we have to create it ourselves, said Head.

Other FORWARRD delegates disagreed that research and development was the priority. Suggestions included changing the behaviour and attitudes of the public (see related story), and developing markets for recycled products. The latter area, which was not mentioned in the Strategy Unit report, is where research and development needs to be carried out, said Dr Gev Eduljee, Technical Director of SITA UK.

Thirty to forty percent of the UK’s GDP results from research, said Jefferis, emphasising the importance to the Government of ensuring that research in the UK is adequately funded. Universities have a problem with applied and near market research as their programmes are designed to take place over three years – as this is the length of time the staff contracts last. They are also concerned with higher cost projects – in the region of £250,000, as opposed to £50,000, he said.

In order to achieve 50% funding of the waste management industry, a funding regime of £140 million per year has to be maintained, said Jefferis. Over the last five years, the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme (LTCS) has helped build up non-university research providers, and now provides half of all research spending on waste management, he said.

Jefferis was critical of the level of the Landfill Tax set by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, which is currently £13 per tonne, rising to £35 over the in the medium to long term. “Get real, Mr Chancellor, if you want a step change, put step change money in,” said, Jefferis. He expressed concern that funding for waste management research might be about to end, and emphasised that it is essential that it shouldn’t. “Otherwise, we’re not just going to stop, we’re going to go backwards,” he said.

According to the Treasury’s pre-budget report, published following the Chancellor’s statement to the House of Commons on 27 November (see related story), outlines the Government’s changes to the LTCS from 1 April next year. Approximately one-third of the funding, around £47 million, will continue to be made available to local community environmental projects, and the remainder, rising to £110 in 2004-5 will be allocated to public spending to encourage sustainable waste management. However, the design of the spending programme hasn’t yet been decided on.

Meanwhile, a new report from Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute has called for a waste management policy based on greenhouse gas reduction. This would pay particular attention to degradable organic wastes – keeping them out of landfill sites and ensuring that as much landfill gas as possible is captured and combusted.

“More of us need to become waste managers at work and at home,” said Tina Fawcett, lead author of the Institute’s report, Carbon UK. “At the simplest level, this means stopping food and other organic waste getting into the local landfill site by having a compost heap in the garden or a wormery in the kitchen.”

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