This past year has seen some progress for the waste and recycling industry in terms of policy which will have an impact on resource efficiency and the responsibilities of the ‘waste producers’.
That in turn would boost the markets for secondary materials. This autumn, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, set out the Government’s sustainability agenda for 2018 and beyond. Its publication was met with some relief from the industry, which had continued with business as usual while being on high alert for any sign of change in direction from a department busily preparing for Brexit.
The published report, endorsed by the PM, showed that the industry and what happens in it matters at the highest level. It also provided a strong signal that the direction of the waste and recycling industry appears to be a low-carbon one, which Ecosurety supports. Commitment to a low-carbon future will support the more efficient use of secondary materials, and should help to build relationships between the UK and the rest of Europe after March 2019.
Inspired to recycle
Environment secretary Michael Gove has also been talking positively with the industry, and we look forward to understanding his vision more clearly when Defra’s resource and waste strategy is released in 2018. Our hope is for an all-encompassing and broad one, rather than something that inhibits recycling by being super prescriptive.
We want consumers and waste producers to feel inspired to recycle and be given the tools to do it, rather than being beaten with a regulatory stick.
Greater transparency around the end destination of recyclates will create incentives among consumers and producers to recycle as much as possible. We do not want to see this opportunity missed in favour of building a shiny superstructure under which very little changes.
Improved PRN transparency
So, 2018 has the potential to become a consolidating year for the waste and recycling industry. There are, of course, large decisions on the horizon, including the merits of any potential bring-back scheme for plastics, which we also hope will interact well with the Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system. We also want to see a continued spotlight shone on PRNs to continue to improve transparency.
When it comes to specific waste materials, we believe the recent increase in wood/pallet recycling targets is a good thing. For some time, the market for wood recycling has been very active, and raising the target means it will better reflect recycling levels on the ground.
China’s adjustment of the tolerance level in plastics contamination from 0.3% to 1% will ease shorter term pressure on exporters as we go into 2018 and new markets open. But Defra should revisit the issue of material quality in the long run, kicking the can down the road is not a sustainability strategy, and the industry has to accept it must address – and solve – its over-reliance on China.
Strengthened UK battery recycling infrastructure
Ecosurety’s development of a battery recycling operation with Belmont Trading UK at Kilwinning, Scotland, has been exciting, and work continues to ensure that the correct equipment and physical infrastructures are in place. Based on strong initial interest from battery producers, we believe the practice of shipping batteries abroad could soon be obsolete.
More than 1,600 battery collection points have been provided by some of Ecosurety’s largest members and collection partners. This is a great way to help strengthen the UK’s battery recycling infrastructure. There are so many locations that now accept batteries, but consumers need to be aware where they can easily take their discarded batteries, especially if they are concerned about how to dispose of them correctly.
A significant year for WEEE
2018 will also be a significant year in terms of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), thanks to the Government’s present consultation to reduce the present 14 categories down to just six.
We believe that WEEE producers and recyclers will need to spend next year preparing for these changes, which go live in 2019. Our impression is that the Government is listening hard to industry. But this, plus the suggestion that the Environment Agency is likely to raise fees on WEEE waste, means there could be discussions in 2018 about what kinds of services producers would like to see from the EA.
Change in the air
Despite the past year being one of hiatus and post-referendum uncertainty, there is also a definite change in the air, particularly during the past few months. Our mantra of ‘change for good’ is underpinned by the idea that change needs to be wrought for positive ends, so that everyone, industry and consumers, ultimately benefits.
We believe the industry is on the cusp of significant evolution. It is starting to look at waste with a long-term, circular view, which can only be positive. This momentum needs to be captured and capitalised on, and greater speed effected. If this happens, there is every reason to be hopeful as we enter 2018.
Article originally featured in the January 2018 edition of MRW magazine. www.mrw.co.uk
Innovation and policy director
Robbie is innovation and policy director at Ecosurety. Having spent years building an intimate understanding of the industry’s policies and politics, he uses this knowledge to help shape new legislation and oversees Ecosurety’s growing portfolio of cross-industry innovation projects including Podback and the Flexible Plastic Fund. He has worked closely with Defra during the most recent packaging consultations, outlining the impacts and required transitional arrangements of the UK’s new EPR system and is a member of the government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP). He is also a spokesperson for the company and regularly uses his influence to communicate the importance of environmental responsibility to external stakeholders.
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