Industrial Strategy sets out plan to strengthen secondary materials market

The government wants to position the UK as a world leader in maximising the value we extract from our resources, strengthening the market for secondary materials and moving towards a more circular economy, its new Industrial Strategy has said.

The government’s Industrial Strategy white paper was published by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) today (27 November) after a year in development.

The plan, subtitled ‘Building a Britain fit for the future’, sets out a ‘long-term vision for how Britain can build on its economic strengths, address its productivity performance, embrace technological change and boost the earning power of people across the UK’.

Among the headline actions included in the strategy, the government has committed to investing another £725 million over the next three years into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which aims to enable UK-based research organisations to innovate with business on the ‘major industrial and societal challenges of our time’.

£1 billion has previously been committed to the fund, and among the ring-fenced funding is £170 million to transform the construction sector and help create affordable places to live and work that are safer and use less energy, £246 million to research next generation battery technology and £86 million to develop robotics hubs across the UK.

This focus on research and development tallies with the announcement last week that the government hopes to increase investment in R&D to the potential tune of £80 billion of additional investment in the next decade, and the Industrial Strategy’s confirmation that the government will be developing ‘Sector Deals’ with a number of sectors to create long-term partnerships with government backed by private sector co-investment.

“We have a thriving research and science base and are home to a wide range of innovative sectors, from advanced manufacturing and life sciences, to fintech and creative industries,” said Business Secretary Greg Clark. “The Industrial Strategy is an unashamedly ambitious vision for the future of our country, laying out how we tackle our productivity challenge, earn our way in the future, and improve living standards across the country.”

Industrial Strategy sets out plan to strengthen secondary materials market
The Industrial Strategy identifies four ‘Grand Challenges’ that the government feels will shape the future of the world and that, it says, ‘the UK must embrace to ensure we harness all the opportunities they bring’. These are: artificial intelligence, clean growth, an aging society and the future of mobility.

And subsequently, it is based on five ‘foundations of productivity’ (right), pared down from the Green Paper released in January, which was based on 10 pillars.

What does it mean for waste?

January’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper, a consultation on which received almost 2,000 responses, was well-received by the waste industry, with several organisations pointing out that waste and resources have an important role in developing resilient UK supply chains.

The separate Clean Growth Strategy, published in October, set a number of targets regarding waste to landfill, and the new white paper notes that October’s plan ‘sits at the heart’ of Industrial Strategy.

‘The move to cleaner economic growth – through low carbon technologies and the efficient use of resources,” it says “is one of the greatest industrial opportunities of our time. Whole new industries will be created and existing industries transformed as we move towards a low carbon, more resource-efficient economy.’

The Industrial Strategy says that the government is ‘committed to moving towards a more circular economy’, raising productivity by using resources more efficiently, increasing resilience by contributing to a healthier environment and supporting long-term growth by regenerating natural capital.

The paper briefly sets out measures to achieve this, saying that the government will work towards raising resource productivity of businesses through the promotion of recycling and strong secondary materials markets ‘where products are designed with efficiency and recycling in mind’.

It later elaborates: ‘We will support businesses’ long-term productivity through innovative approaches to resource efficiency. We will position the UK as a world leader in sustainably maximising the value we extract from our resources, while minimising the negative impacts of their extraction, use and disposal.

‘We will take further measures to strengthen the markets for secondary materials, and in 2018 we will publish a new resources and waste strategy to support businesses in maximising the economic benefits from greater resource productivity. As part of this work, we will work with industry to explore options to introduce electronic tracking of waste. This will support the development of new markets for waste materials and improve the efficiency of enforcement, creating a level playing field for the waste and resources sector.’

The need for greater focus on the development on the domestic market for secondary materials has been put into sharper focus by the upcoming ban and restrictions on waste imports to China, the largest importer of the UK’s waste paper and plastics, and several trade associations have called for urgent work on developing pull measures to encourage the use of recycled materials.

The strategy also points to the Bioeconomy Strategy currently in development and due early next year, which will set out a framework for growth in the sector to develop low carbon bio-based products and processes, and also the Courtauld Commitment, which aims to deliver a 20 per cent per capita reduction in food waste by 2025.

Industrial Strategy sets out plan to strengthen secondary materials marketThere is of course mention of the 25-year Environment Plan, long promised by the government and hoped for in the first months of 2017, and a new strategy for resources and waste, confirmed in the Clean Growth Strategy. These, the white paper says, will see the government continually strengthen its policies in line with national ambitions of zero avoidable waste and doubling resource productivity by 2050.

As well as the explicit references to waste and resources, opportunities could also be found for the sector and its development through the commitment to research and development. One of the strategy’s ‘Grand Challenges’ surrounds the use and harnessing of artificial intelligence (AI), and the paper notes that one application of AI could be to enable more efficient use of resources: ‘For example, intelligent algorithms applied to data on atmospheric conditions and soil moisture could dramatically reduce the amount of water needed for agriculture.’

Strategy will ‘shape stronger economy for decades to come’

Summing up the Industrial Strategy paper, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Our modern Industrial Strategy will shape a stronger and fairer economy for decades to come. It will help create the conditions where successful businesses can emerge and grow, and support these businesses in seizing the big opportunities of our time, such as artificial intelligence and big data, whilst also making sure our young people have the skills to take on the high-paid, high-skilled jobs this creates.

“As we leave the European Union and forge a new path for ourselves, we need to focus on building a better future for our country and all the people who live in it. With the Budget last week, and our Industrial Strategy in the years ahead, we will build a Britain fit for the future.’

The 255-page Industrial Strategy White Paper can be read and downloaded from the government’s website. 

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