Taking a leap of faith into a cleaner future

Written by: Recycling Waste World | Published:

A great deal has been said and written about the circular economy with all its anticipated benefits. With waste management companies changing their focus from resource operators to manufacturing companies, the emphasis is now on clear policy to ensure its delivery. Freelance writer David Burrows reports.

WRAP claims the UK economy could be transformed by 2020 were it to “really embrace” the circular economy into the heart of its thinking. For starters, material inputs would shrink by some 30 million tonnes and there would be 50 million tonnes less waste. More than 50,000 jobs could also be created, according to the Environmental Services Association, with £10bn of investment boosting the economy to the tune of £3bn. 

Businesses are buying into it. 

“The circular economy is an opportunity industry can’t afford to miss,” says Sir Ian Cheshire, group chief executive of Kingfisher, the company behind B&Q and Screwfix. 

“It can drive our next generation of innovation and business growth, cushion our business from price volatility, provide us with competitive advantage, and help us build better relationships with customers and suppliers,” adds Sir Ian.

Waste companies are too. 

The Guardian summed up the transition already underway: Veolia has focused its most recent strategy on moving away from a resource operator and changing to a manufacturing company shaping the circular economy. SITA has developed a use for unrecyclable commercial material as a fuel in cement kilns. Viridor supplies the Coca-Cola ECO Plastics plant with material to recycle plastic bottles. FCC is a leading contributor to the sector’s resource revolution. 

The benefits

Biffa has launched consultancy R3MC to help clients realise the benefits of resource efficiency and a circular economy. 

Writing about the move recently, CEO Ian Wakelin, explained: “The waste management sector has both responsibility and opportunity in developing a circular economy. [Getting there] will require a huge shift both in terms of perceptions and practical action. There is hope amongst the industry that the new ‘waste champion’ in BIS [the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills] will start to reshape the government’s approach to resource management and provide an environment in which the circular economy can flourish.”

Even the government seems keen. Next year BIS will produce a long term strategy for supporting a waste-based bioeconomy. Why wouldn’t politicians want to create jobs, make better use of our resources, cut waste and limit carbon emissions?

It was all going so well - until this month when both the UK government and the European Union appeared to put the brakes on. 

First, Number 10 rejected a number of recommendations set out in the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report Ending the throwaway society: growing a circular economy. The cross-party group of MPs offered a number of recommendations, including lower VAT on recycled products, a phased-in requirement for new products to be recyclable and a ban on food waste to landfill. 

None were accepted. 

“Our government seems to have its head in the sand and is refusing to take basic steps to reduce the amount of food and resources we waste,” said chair Joan Walley.

Ray Georgeson, chief executive at the Resource Association, tends to agree. 

“Like many other stakeholders in the waste and resources sector, we find this exasperating, as the potential for genuine waste reduction, resource efficiency and green growth with the carbon and jobs benefits that will accrue is still lower on the policy radar than we and many others would wish.” 

He adds: “I see little point in dwelling on the limited vision and severe policy hiatus that has characterised the tenure of successive ministers and secretaries of state. Our focus now has t

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