ESA updates its biodiversity best practice guide for waste sector

The Environmental Services Association (ESA), the trade body representing the UK's recycling and waste management industry, has marked the International Day for Biological Diversity by releasing an updated version of its biodiversity best practice guidance for the sector. 

Bird in the foreground of an illegal waste dump in the UKThe Biodiversity and the Resources and Waste Management Industry - Best Practice Guide was first published in 2022, and has been revised to incorporate recent developments in national and international commitments and legislation focused on protecting and enhancing biodiversity.

The theme for this year's International Day for Biological Diversity, 'Be part of the Plan,' encourages governments, businesses, and individuals to take action in support of efforts to protect, restore, and enhance nature.

The biodiversity best practice guide, compiled by members of the ESA's Biodiversity Working Group, aims to help businesses understand, measure, and mitigate their impact on biodiversity, considering both positive and negative aspects.

Since its original publication, there have been significant developments in biodiversity-related commitments and legislation at both national and international levels. The updated guide reflects these changes, including the Global Biodiversity Framework, the implementation of Biodiversity Net Gain planning conditions as part of the Environment Act 2021, and the Environment Improvement Plan 2023.

Moreover, the revised guide incorporates recently published reporting tools and frameworks, such as the Taskforce for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures, the International Sustainability Standards Board, and the ESA's own Nature Positive Toolkit, which was launched in 2023.

The role of the sector in preserving biodiversity

By promoting a circular economy and reducing the need for virgin raw materials, the industry helps to minimise the environmental impact associated with resource extraction and processing. According to the United Nations, extracting and processing raw materials to meet global consumption accounts for 90 per cent of biodiversity loss. By keeping materials in use for longer through recycling, the sector reduces the demand for new resources and the associated biodiversity impacts.

In addition to the biodiversity benefits inherent in its core activities, the waste industry can further enhance its positive impact through a range of targeted interventions. These may include sensitive planning and delivery of construction projects, creating and maintaining habitats on estate holdings, and accurately monitoring and reporting on biodiversity impacts. By taking a proactive approach, the sector can make a significant contribution to addressing the ecological crisis and supporting the goals of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

The Best Practice Guide discusses two complementary hierarchies for waste management companies to manage their biodiversity impacts - the Reactive Impact Mitigation Hierarchy and the Proactive Conservation Hierarchy. 

The Reactive hierarchy focuses on sequentially mitigating negative biodiversity impacts from projects or activities. It follows these steps in order:

  1. Avoid impacts by retaining important biodiversity features
  2. Minimise unavoidable impacts
  3. Restore impacted habitats
  4. As a last resort, offset residual impacts elsewhere

In contrast, the Proactive hierarchy aims to actively improve biodiversity over the current state by:

  1. Identifying areas where biodiversity can be enhanced
  2. Managing impacts by working with stakeholders to prevent habitat degradation
  3. Actively restoring degraded habitats

Using both hierarchies together allows companies to comprehensively manage their biodiversity impacts and contributions. The Reactive hierarchy helps avoid and mitigate harm, while the Proactive hierarchy guides active biodiversity enhancement. The specific actions will depend on each company's activities and impacts.

A step-by-step process to support a nature-positive future

The guide points to the detailed process the ESA has developed for its members to follow to support a nature-positive future:

  • Understanding - Ensure the core team understands what supporting a nature-positive future entails and the associated benefits, policies and regulations.
  • Developing the business case - Articulate how supporting nature-positive practices will benefit the organisation, estimate resources needed and get senior management buy-in.
  • Committing - Develop and publish an organisation-wide nature-positive policy or commitment.
  • Mapping - Identify the organisation's impacts on nature across operations, sites, facilities, areas under direct control, and indirect impacts outside direct control.
  • Measuring - Measure mapped impacts on nature for a baseline year and subsequent years, establishing an 'activity' baseline of impact causes and a 'nature' baseline of nature's condition. 
  • Prioritising - Prioritise which activities and assets to address first based on impact significance, quick wins, risks, and enhancement opportunities.
  • Setting targets - Set SMART, costed targets and KPIs to address negative impacts, enhance nature for priority areas, and integrate nature-positive thinking into governance and strategy.
  • Taking action - Identify, select and implement actions to meet the targets, guided by nature-positive principles. 
  • Influencing - Promote a nature-positive approach to those who control indirect impacts outside the organisation's direct control.
  • Tracking - Monitor progress against the activity and nature baselines and targets to see if actions are having the desired effect.
  • Reporting - Produce and publish an accessible progress report.
  • Reviewing and ratcheting up - Annually review if actions are meeting targets, modifying them if needed. Every 3 years minimum, increase ambition.

The process also includes ongoing actions to agree with management at key milestones, share the journey internally and externally, engage others through information sharing, and collaborate with stakeholders.

Leigh Broadhurst, Chair of the ESA's Biodiversity Working Group, emphasised the importance of the sector's role: "With the theme for International Day for Biological Diversity being 'be part of the Plan', we recognise the waste industry has a proactive role to play in addressing the ecological crisis and supporting the goals of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework."

The updated biodiversity best practice guide provides advice about helping organisations to plan, monitor, and deliver biodiversity improvements through their operations and supply chains. By curating the latest policies, legislation, and reporting tools, the guide enables businesses to keep up-to-date and adapt their practices to align with the evolving biodiversity landscape.

Broadhurst commented: "Since we first published the Best Practice Guide in December 2022, there have been further commitments and legislation introduced both nationally and internationally to protect biodiversity. We have updated the guide to ensure it reflects the current landscape so it can serve as a helpful reference for organisations across our sector."

Key legislation and frameworks

The updated guide covers a range of key legislation and frameworks that shape the biodiversity agenda for the waste and recycling sector. These include:

- The Global Biodiversity Framework, adopted at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in December 2022, which sets out ambitious goals and targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.
- Biodiversity Net Gain planning conditions, introduced as part of the Environment Act 2021, which require developers to demonstrate a minimum 10% increase in biodiversity value for new developments in England.
- The Environment Improvement Plan 2023, which sets out the UK Government's targets and commitments to protect and enhance the natural environment, including biodiversity.

The updated Best Practice Guide: Biodiversity and the resources and waste management industry is available for free download from the ESA's website,