Government’s Clean Growth Strategy targets landfill obsolescence by 2050

The UK government has targeted zero avoidable waste going to landfill by 2050 and confirmed plans for a Waste and Resources Strategy in its long-awaited Clean Growth Strategy yesterday (12 October), detailing its plans for a low-carbon future for the UK.

The strategy - ‘The Clean Growth Strategy: Leading the way to a low carbon future’ - has been highly anticipated following months of delay leading up to its publication and details the opportunities presented to the UK in the form of low carbon economic opportunities and how they can help the UK meet its carbon reduction targets, as well as achieve sustainable economic growth.

The plan includes some proposals regarding waste, which CIWM Chief Executive Colin Church has called “potential game-changers”.

The document outlines the UK’s progress in combatting climate change to date - it suggests that since 1990, the UK’s carbon emissions have fallen by 42 per cent while the economy has grown by 67 per cent, outstripping every other G7 nation - and seeks to build on that performance and meet the targets contained in the fifth carbon budget (2028 to 2032).

The government sets out how £2.5 billion will be invested in low carbon innovation between 2015 and 2021 across around 50 new measures delivering low carbon energy, transport, agriculture and waste, benefiting the entire country through the creation of new technologies and businesses, creating jobs and economic opportunity around the UK.

Commenting on the strategy, Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: “This government has put clean growth at the heart of its Industrial Strategy to increase productivity, boost people’s earning power and ensure Britain continues to lead the world in efforts to tackle climate change.

“For the first time in a generation, the British government is leading the way on taking decisions on new nuclear, rolling out smart meters and investing in low carbon innovation. The world is moving from being powered by polluting fossil fuels to clean energy. It’s as big a change as the move from the age of steam to the age of oil and Britain is showing the way.”

Waste in the strategy

While the waste and resources industry, responsible for 15 per cent of UK carbon emissions, has grown increasingly frustrated at the repeated delay to the release of the government’s 25-year environment plan, now put back until 2018, the Clean Growth Strategy at least provides some indication that the government is getting serious about preparing the UK for a low-carbon future and recognises the role of waste and resources in achieving that.

Since 1990, carbon emissions from the waste sector have fallen by 73 per cent, driven by taxing waste to landfill and the increase in recycling rates from 11 per cent in 2000/01 to 44 per cent in 2015/16.

Notably, the strategy confirms that the government will ‘publish a new Resources and Waste Strategy to make the UK a world leader in terms of competitiveness, resource productivity and resource efficiency’. This was first intimated by Environment Secretary Michael Gove this summer, and the Clean Growth plan explains that it will focus on three areas:

  • Maximising resource productivity - through more efficient manufacturing processes;
  • Maximising the value we get from resources throughout their lifetimes - by designing products more smartly to increase longevity and enable recyclability; and
  • Managing materials at end of life – by targeting environmental impacts.

The Strategy states its ambition for the UK to send zero avoidable waste to landfill by 2050, as well as sending no food waste to landfill by 2030, through maximising the value extracted from resources and minimising their environmental effects. The government will also explore new ways of limiting carbon emissions from landfill.

Commenting on the policies, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, appointed back in June following the general election, said: “Through our ambitious plans to tackle waste, better manage our precious natural resources and create a more environmentally-focused agricultural system, this government is taking the lead in creating a cleaner, greener Britain.”

Reaction from sector

The Clean Growth Strategy has been welcomed by leading figures and organisations across the environment sector, with those in the waste and resources industry drawing particular succor from its publication.

Commenting on the strategy, Environmental Services Association Executive Director Jacob Hayler said: “The government’s Clean Growth Strategy rightly recognises the impressive work of the waste and resource industry in helping the UK transition to a low carbon circular economy.

“Emissions from the sector have reduced by 73 per cent since 1990, recycling rates have quadrupled over 15 years, and the equivalent of 2.3 million homes are powered by renewable electricity generated from waste.

“We welcome the government’s plans to go even further in reducing carbon emissions, and look forward to an ambitious Resources and Waste Strategy with real, tangible measures that will help our members invest in greater resource efficiency and deliver clean economic growth for the UK plc.”

CIWM Chief Executive Dr Colin Church added: “In this strategy, we have the clearest indication yet of the government’s future policy on resources and waste and the articulation of a positive vision to become a zero avoidable waste economy by 2050.

“Proposals to eliminate food waste to landfill by 2030, incentivise more resource efficient products and processes through extended producer responsibility, and use data to mobilise sustainable local economic development and innovation through local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), are all potential game-changers.

“In addition, the suggestion that materials should be managed in relation to their environmental impact opens the door to smarter targets in the future. The support and funding for innovation, including new technological solutions to manage long term landfill emissions, is also highly welcome.”

Focusing on the strategy’s words on removing food waste to landfill, Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA) said: “We welcome the government’s ambition to divert all food waste from landfill by 2030 and to support local authorities in rolling out separate food waste collections.”

ADBA will be launching a Best Practice Scheme later this year to ensure high standards in AD operations. Morton added that following the strategy’s targets, tangible support must be provided for mandatory separate food waste collections in England and the “urgent tabling of legislation on the Renewable Heat Incentive to renew support for biomethane-to-grid”.

You can view the entire Clean Growth Strategy - ‘The Clean Growth Strategy: Leading the way to a low carbon future’ - on the BEIS website.

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