There's high hopes for the sector if you embrace change

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:

Christmas and the New Year period is an ideal time to reflect on the previous 12 months, as well as providing you with a chance to recharge the batteries and plan for the coming year.

2018 – Where did it go?

I continued my SUEZ waste odyssey, visiting our sites, contracts and staff across the UK, partly to help me fully understand our business and to provide an opportunity for some positive press about just how well our local partnerships are delivering in what can only be defined as tough economic and policy times.

Many of these trips have resulted in blogs on the SUEZ website and I have thoroughly enjoyed being an ambassador for the company this last year, talking with residents, working with staff of all grades, and getting involved more with community initiatives.

My site seeing tour has taken in a range of technologies and sites including SRF, MRF, EfW, MBT, landfill, wood recycling, composting and landfill. But I have also covered the length and breadth of the UK.

Highlights from the last 12 months include: supporting the ESA as they developed campaigns around ‘insourcing’ and the need for public services to demonstrate best value and value for money; working with Defra officials as on the Resources and Waste Strategy and commissioning new reports to address key issues of concern and opportunity in our sector.

The first of these was on DRS (working with Oakdene Hollins) and the suitability of on-the-go DRS only, plus toolkit and guide to local authority waste and street scene procurement (with Ricardo).

These reports and associated webinars and articles certainly kept me front and centre over many of the sector’s hottest debates this last year, and I hope to do similar with some planned thought leadership in 2019.

Yet the highlight for me on a personal level was the work we did with our customers, at our customer workshops and conferences, helping to introduce some of the potentially game changing issues just over the horizon of our sector.

We helped our customers to start to think through what these might mean for them in terms of future funding streams, service provision, targets and performance. This challenged all of us to think outside the box and embrace the opportunities that might be afforded from the revolution that our sector is facing.

Bringing experts from the SUEZ global family to talk through international commodity market trends post-China made the issue of commodity risk and fluctuating gate fees a reality for us all. Plus, spending time in workshops to tease out how Full Net Cost Recovery could help fund new and improved collection services for target obligated packaging materials was both challenging and rewarding for not only the public sector clients but our corporate customers too.

Being able to take the time to deep dive on big issues, whether it be Brexit, Circular Economy Package targets or the China Crisis, and work with clients and the entire value chain has really helped me to settle into my new role.

And the year really finished on a high, having spent months of time working with Defra and the value chain on many of the nuances, opportunities and pitfalls associated with our current and future policy landscapes, with the launch of their Resources and Waste Strategy, which has the potential to be a once in a generation defining moment for our sector and its evolution over the next 25 years.

I enjoyed reading it in the run up to Christmas, glad to see so many of the hotly debated issues covered in some form or other, and I am now preparing to start my response on the first of the new batch of consultations to be launched concerning the expansion of the 5p plastic bag tax.

So well done to Defra for keeping the momentum up, and a warm welcome to Ben Elliot as Defra’s newly appointed Food Waste ‘Tsar’. He looks to have a big job on his hands, but with a separate food waste collection consultation due out soon he can really get things moving on the front foot.

2019 – What does it have in store?

This year will be dominated by detail, options and consultations associated with the new Resources and Waste Strategy. We will get to have our say on possibly seven consultations ranging from EPR, Full Net Cost Recovery and DRS, to new targets, consistent collections, separate food waste collections, free garden waste collections and new standards for bio-based and biodegradable plastics, plus the transposition of the EC Circular Economy Package. So sharpen your pencils, we will have a busy few months ahead of us.

Beyond these immediate opportunities, I will also be working closely with colleagues on our bi-annual waste infrastructure demand assessment ‘Mind the Gap 3’ which will help identify capacity gaps and regional variations in terms of both residual processing and recycling infrastructure needed to meet the new targets in England, Scotland and Wales. We will also be working up a tool to help local authorities to model the potential impact of DRS and EPR options on their current and planned collection services.

These will both be invaluable during the consultation responses, as we all help Defra, HM Treasury (planned consultation on 30% recycled content tax), and BEIS (through their sector deals) redefine the sector and its direction of travel.

In addition, I have already commissioned Oakdene Hollins to work up a think piece on textiles recovery and the role of EPR in the textiles supply chain, to help stimulate some further debate in this developing area of interest.

We expect this to be out towards Easter 2019, and in support of this SUEZ have joined WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) and are working with a number of charities on possible work wear recycling and repurposing.

Finally, 2019 should prove to be a defining year for our sector for a number of reasons.

Brexit will come to a close this year, and then we can get on with planning for a more definable future in terms of staff, vehicles, exports and imports of materials and products.

The Environment Bill should be also completed this year, enshrining a number of sustainable development principles into English law and ensuring that the new environmental watchdog has the breadth of remit and sufficient powers to replace the EU courts it will be replacing.

The Resources and Waste Strategy and its associated consultations will ensure that by the end of 2019 we have a clear vision of priorities, new systems, new funding, and new targets, so that we can all then begin to plan around in terms of services, infrastructure and engagement.

The resources sector will become recognised by BEIS as a key sector to the future economic development of the UK providing secondary materials for remanufacturing, manufacturing, chemicals and fuels industries. The ESA led Resources Sector Deal will be key to this transition from waste to resource sector, and I will share more

Adam Read is external affairs director at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK.


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