What's in store for the environmental services sector?

Written by: Rob Edmondson | Published:
Rob Edmondson is MD of Environmental Services at AMEY

Over the next few months guest blogger Rob Edmondson will be exploring a number of industry issues and trends. In his first blog, Rob sets out some of the key issues of the moment and the themes he will be covering.

It’s fair to say there’s never been a more exciting time to be in the business of environmental services. The agenda is moving and shaping at an unprecedented pace.

With waste and the impact of single use items and the public’s sudden awakening to the impact of plastics in our natural environment rapidly moving up the agenda, boardrooms have been stirred into action and the media have seized on the strong images.

Although these have been circulating for a while and the media’s interest also has strong roots, this has conspired to make the environment one of the top political priorities of 2018.

This is in stark contrast to the last few years where, at least in policy terms, not a lot happened. Suddenly, a review of producer responsibility, the challenge of Brexit and the ocean plastics-inspired war on single use packaging and disposable products has changed the game.

Creating change

It may have been quiet on the policy front until very recently, yet at Amey, things have been changing. In the last twelve months we have finished construction and commissioned two integrated waste management facilities in North Yorkshire and Milton Keynes, and are constructing a third on the Isle of Wight.

Our approach of incorporating mechanical treatment, biological treatment and energy recovery at our strategic sites hopes to provide flexibility for the inevitable changes in what’s in the waste stream, and its material, carbon and energy value.

We’re really excited about the future, and hope to add an energy recovery component to our fourth strategic site in Waterbeach, Cambridge, which already hosts mechanical and biological treatment.

Some of the changes coming at the sector will have a huge impact, with consequences that potentially change the way in which waste and recycling services are delivered. The impact of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drink containers - on local government and on society - is a key part of this, but so is the broader digitalisation agenda and the way in which consumers engage with retailers, brands and companies like Amey to shop, eat and move about.

How we live, work and travel is changing just as rapidly as these other agendas affecting the environmental services sector. One thing we can be sure of is change, and I’ll be exploring some of these issues over the coming months in this series of blogs.

Engaging consumers

In the meantime, let’s bring it back to the issue that’s managed to scale the heady heights of the political agenda. Now is the time to seize the opportunity to engage consumers on environmental issues.

They are aware, switched on and ready for change (with a recent poll from Packaging Europe showing 74% of the UK public support a DRS). Most importantly, they are taking action.

Major brands are doing the same - chiefly in response to consumer appetite, but welcome nonetheless - with some substantial announcements by the likes of Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Pret and others offering both immediate and longer term commitments to change.

A full DRS will impact local authority collection schemes, but it will also drive very different behaviours and could lead to many having a lot less waste to collect.

Now is not the time for half-measures and fudges. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change for the better and politicians really can afford to be bold and visionary. As for. we’ve got plenty of work to do, such as presenting the business case for investing in circular economy solutions, delivering the all-important infrastructure and making these bold plans and proposals a reality.

It’s a great time to be working in this sector, alongside some brilliant people across many public and private sector organisations.

I look forward to sharing my views with the readers of RWW over the next few months, and no doubt hearing your opinions and responses.

Rob Edmondson is MD of Environmental Services at AMEY.

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