Hopes and fears for the waste and resources sector in 2018

Written by: Adam Read | Published:
Suez external affairs director Adam Read

After a face-paced four months in my new role many of my colleagues have started to ask me how it’s going and my response has always been very positive.

I have found Suez to be most welcoming, with staff in all locations spending time to fill me in and share their insights.

I have spent time getting to know the business, getting out to sites to see what the real issues are at the coal face (from SRF production and gasification, to HWRC sites, reuse hubs and energy recovery centre).

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on site, seeing some of the new technical developments in action and getting a taste of working with customers at a more local level. This takes me back to when I first entered the sector in 1995 as a recycling officer in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

This period of personal change, from consultant to waste contractor, has coincided with a time of great uncertainty and change in our sector, resulting in new challenges, new experiences and a bit of a roller-coaster ride from one week to the next.

A ride that has been more educational and fun than you might expect. I never would have thought 12 months ago that by January 2018 I would have left consultancy; joined SUEZ; become a convert for Deposit Return Schemes; and have engaged in positive open and honest debate with the likes of Greenpeace about recycling markets and the role of energy recovery.

Keeping busy

In recent months, I have been involved in consultations and calls for evidence on Deposit Return Schemes, EA charging, the National Infrastructure Commission modelling of future infrastructure needs and of course commenting on the London Environment Strategy.

Overlay this with sector specific think tanks, committees and working group sessions (and outputs – reports, articles, presentations) focused on a wide portfolio of issues.

Then there has been my time spent on CIWM committees, including the Executive Council as we oversee preparations for a change in governance and structuring, the ESA working groups that I have now joined, in particular those on communications and procurement, and my initial forays into working with FEAD across Europe.

So much can change in 12 months, and I can guarantee that this coming year will be even busier and more transitionary given the Circular Economy Package now firmly on the horizon, the fall-out of National Sword on UK recycling systems and performance, and of course Michael Gove’s impending announcement on a deposit return scheme just around the corner.

Spinning faster in 2018

Q1 (January through March 2018) already looks very busy, with a response due on the National Infrastructure Commission ‘Congestion, Capacity, Carbon: priorities for national infrastructure’ report, the expected issuing of the Defra 25 year strategy, which will need analysis, reflection and commentary, and a series of site visits and study tours to see more of the Suez portfolio.

Q2 (April to June) will see a number of newly commissioned reports released, whilst I expect to be involved in CIWM’s Annual Conference ‘Resourcing the Future’ and Q3 should see the arrival of the much-needed UK Resource & Waste Management Strategy. This strategy has been heavily promoted through the Industrial Strategy and the Clean Growth Strategy.

As such, I am expecting a lot of engagement with Defra and BEIS in Qs 1 and 2 as they develop specific elements of the strategy and in Q3 and Q4 as Suez look to respond, react and reposition to the new policy agenda. So it look like 2018 will be a busy one for me, and for most of you working in this sector of ours.

What do I hope for in 2018?

First and foremost that the new Defra Resources & Waste Strategy meets our expectations and delivers a coherent policy framework that works across government departments and sets the right ambitions for a circular economy that is deliverable yet challenging.

However, I still fear that government will be a little more ad-hoc and reactionary to the hot topics of the day (marine plastics and DRS being two obvious ones), leaving the sector ‘disappointed’ in either the strategy’s lack of vision, or lack of supporting policy, legislation and enforcement to make the step change we all want and need, but I hope not. More likely it will get delayed, and 2018 will be less memorable than we had expected.

If I have another wish, it is that Brexit progresses faster so we can move beyond the uncertainty, and start to invest in the services and infrastructure needed to deliver on our new strategy.

The degree of uncertainty has impacted investment, decision-making and progress, and the UK needs all three if we are to transform our economy to one that is productive, green and consumer ready. I am not sure we will see the level of clarity needed in 2018, but I can live in hope.

I would like to see a clear government steer (both in England and Wales) on Extended Producer Responsibility policies and frameworks before the launch of any new deposit return schemes. I expect to be part of a number of trials or pilot DRS in 2018, with planning already well under way, but DRS alone is not going to deliver on its own, we need a full EPR system that embraces polluter pays thinking.

I might get some of this wish in 2018, and as the body of evidence for DRS grows so will the wave of enthusiasm for EPR, so roll on 2019.

Finally, I hope that the sector and the supply chains can come together, as they have been doing in the second half of 2017, to fill any gaps, agree common priorities, and to deliver the change needed to enable the UK to be a society where resources are valued, decisions are based on the full costs and benefits, and where wastes that are produced are put to the best possible use in the interest so the UK economy.

If we are to deal with the marine plastics issue and address National Sword concerns, we must improve the quality of our recyclate and reduce the levels of contamination.

This will take effort from everyone: designers, manufacturers, the public, and the waste and resource management companies and local authorities.

In the meantime, I would like to wish you all a productive New Year, and look forward to seeing you at any one of a large number of planned workshops, meetings and seminars in January and February 2018. I did say I like to be busy didn’t I?

Each month, Dr Adam Read, External Affairs Director at Suez, discusses the big issues within the sector.

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