Sustainability

ESA calls for supply chains to take responsibility of waste

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) has recommended a new system of producer responsibility that transfers resource ownership from local authorities (LAs) to product supply chains, which it says will improve the quality, recyclability and use of recycled content.

ESA calls for supply chains to take responsibility of waste

The recommendation is one of four included in the association’s report, ‘Delivering Sustainable Growth: How the Resource and Waste Management Industry Benefits People, the Environment and the Economy’, which it launched today (10 May). The report sets out the industry’s achievements and ambitions of helping the UK move towards a circular economy.

In the report, the ESA, which represents the interests of its members, comprising waste and resource management businesses, praises the ‘shift from treating waste as a dirty problem solved only by disposal, to approaching it as a rich opportunity to better manage our resources’ over the last 20 years, which has seen the transition from landfilling 90 per cent of household waste in 1996 to a recycling rate of almost 45 per cent today.

Examples of the industry’s centrality to a burgeoning circular economy are given in the report. These include case studies on household waste recycling centres, clean energy production and developing a more skilled workforce.

Recommendations

According to the report there are, however, a number of barriers that are preventing the industry reaching its full potential. Rising levels of household waste, it says, have put financial burdens on LAs, while the drop in commodity prices has had an effect on investment in waste infrastructure.

To this end, it makes four recommendations that the ESA claims would improve incentives along the supply chain, drive efficiency, lower costs – ‘particularly to the local government sector’ – and deliver private investment, to ensure recycling and landfill diversion rates continue to progress.

Introduce a new framework for producer responsibility that transfers resource ownership from local authorities to product supply chains

The ESA suggests that ‘transferring responsibility and funding of collection systems from LAs to product supply chains would create incentives for producers to be involved in the design of collection systems which deliver materials that meet their own requirements, whilst reducing the financial burden on LAs’.

It claims that existing schemes are failing to produce secondary materials of consistent quality and that a new system would encourage producers to reduce waste, and design products and packaging made up of higher quantities of recycled material that are also easier to recycle.

Develop more resilient recovery markets for waste-derived products

The UK is likely to miss its 2020 and 2030 recycling targets if, the report says, the recycling industry continues to face a combination of falling input quality, rising processing costs and falling output prices due to pressure on LAs to reduce household service levels. The ESA therefore suggests harmonising collection systems, strengthening green public procurement rules and having stronger tax incentives for use of recycled materials.

Improve the efficiency of waste collection systems and infrastructure

The ESA believes that there is significant scope for reducing system costs through a more joined-up approach to waste management between LAs. Again, this would involved harmonised systems at greater than LA level to manage streams together. It would also require a review of current waste-related targets and incentive schemes to ensure that the value from waste is maximised and we do not inadvertently favour lower value options.

Drive waste crime out of the sector

The ESA estimates that the public sector loses £568 million each year through unpaid landfill tax and clean-up costs. The report says that by addressing these areas, the government would enable the industry to create a system that is resilient, builds UK competitiveness and makes the UK a world leader in environmentally and economically sustainable resource and waste management.

The government has already ring-fenced £20 million from the Landfill Communities Fund to tackle waste crime over the next five years, but the report calls for a greater emphasis on innovation, rather than the precautionary principles, to stimulate technological solutions to environmental challenges, more stringent requirements on permit holders and the introduction of more rigorous application of duty of care to ‘root out unscrupulous operators’.

‘Urgent government intervention’ required for UK to manage its resources

The ESA’s Executive Director Jacob Hayler said: “The resource and waste management industry has a lot to celebrate. The industry has increased the UK’s recycling rate from near zero in the early 1990s to almost 45 per cent today… It has also worked to reduce its own emissions by 70 per cent 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.”

Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney and chair for the Parliamentary launch of the report added: “The UK’s resource and waste management industry has embraced the concept of the circular economy and led the way in promoting sustainable management of resources.

“This report rightly celebrates its successes of driving up recycling rates, generating renewable energy and diverting waste from landfill, whilst providing jobs and growth for the nation.”

The report can be downloaded from the ESA website.