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Waste Industry Calls on UK to ‘Deliver Sustainable Growth’ Through Circular Economy

The trade association for the United Kingdom’s resource and waste management sector, the Environmental Services Association (ESA), recently released a report which celebrates the industry’s achievements – and urges the government to ensure “recycling and diversion rates do not go backwards.” The group provided four recommendations which it believes will create a more resilient waste collection system and aid the push towards a circular economy.

“The Resource and Waste Management Industry has a lot to celebrate,” said the ESA’s Executive Director Jacob Hayler. “The industry has increased the UK’s recycling rate from near zero in the early 1990s to almost 45% today. It recovers energy from waste which cannot be economically recycled, supplying the UK with 12% of its renewable electricity. It has also worked to reduce its own emissions by 70% since 1990. In doing all this, the sector is helping to deliver growth for the Exchequer and thousands of jobs for the nation.”

“However, rising costs and depressed commodity markets are putting immense pressure on the sector, and urgent Government intervention is required to ensure the UK can continue to manage its resources in both an environmentally and economically sustainable way.”

The new report, Delivering Sustainable Growth: How the Resource and Waste Management Industry Benefits People, the Environment and the Economy, explains that the UK is unlikely to reach its target of a 50 percent household recycling rate by 2020 despite that the rate has been steadily increasing since the early 1990s and reached 44.90 percent in 2014. The ESA reasons that household waste volumes are rising once again, straining local authority finances, and the drop in commodity prices has affected investment in waste infrastructure.

The group asserts that policy is a critical element of averting these threats to the industry and delivering economic growth “and a greener, cleaner Britain.” As such, the ESA made four recommendations to the UK Government:

  1. Develop more resilient recovery markets for waste-derived products to stimulate the demand for recycled content in products in a way that ensures recycling remains economic as higher recycling rates are reached.
  2. Introduce a new framework for producer responsibility which transfers resource ownership from local authorities to product supply chains to help produce secondary materials of consistent quality which would drive resource efficiency, strengthen competitiveness, stimulate long-term investment and make the system resilient to changing market pressures and drivers.
  3. Improve the efficiency of waste collection systems and infrastructure to facilitate a more coordinated approach to waste management between local authorities would increase economies of scale and yield an overall reduction in system costs.
  4. Drive waste crime out of the sector to help compliant businesses thrive by rooting out unscrupulous operators. The ESA estimates that the public sector loses £568 million each year through unpaid landfill tax and clean-up costs.

The report also highlights how the waste management industry has been helping to create a circular economy already, and the social, environmental and economic benefits that the sector delivers. To further illustrate its actions and ambitions, several case studies from recycling centres, waste-to-energy plants, and companies such as SUEZ and Veolia.

SUEZ’s furniture re-use partnership with Doncaster Refurnish builds on its work with UK think tank RSA on bulk waste reduction, while Veolia’s ‘Bag 2 Bag’ initiative in the UK is complemented by its other closed-loop projects such as its small appliances-focused partnership with household equipment manufacturer Group SEB. SUEZ and Veolia are also involved in Project MainStream, part of the World Economic Forum’s Circular Economy initiative.


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