Parties urged to follow ten steps towards a circular economy

The Resource Association is challenging all political parties involved in next month’s general election to commit to developing a circular economy and acknowledge ten crucial steps towards creating a policy landscape that could have a ‘transformational effect’ on the UK resources sector, with subsequent benefits to the nation’s economy as a whole.

The Resource Association, which promotes the UK reprocessing and recycling sectors, published its ‘Manifesto for Resources 2017’ today (4 May) ahead of June’s general election.

It sets ‘five key challenges’ for the parties and sets out ten steps towards a circular economy.

Resource Association urges parties on ten steps towards a circular economyCurrent Resources Minister Therese Coffey has previously seemed ambivalent towards the circular economy, stating at a session of the Environmental Audit Committee that “the word circular economy to me is at risk of implying there isn’t growth, we can continue to grow, it doesn’t just need to be a closed loop.”

But the Resource Association says that circularity would bring social, economic and environmental benefits to the UK and have called on political parties to recognise this and make a number of pledges, which include making a ‘long-term commitment’ to the development of a circular economy, encompassing a greater emphasis on resource productivity and efficency in the UK economy.

Other commitments that the Resource Association wishes to see from political parties are to:

  • Send clear signals to the waste and resources industry industry about the levels of ambition and impact they see the circular economy having, providing a strong and stable policy direction to encourage investment;
  • Guarantee that existing environmental standards and protections will remain in place as a minimum and commit to exploring improvements, regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations;
  • Commit to placing high-quality recycling and consistency in household recycling collections at the heart of resources policy, recognising the importance of this for a healthy and sustainable UK manufacturing base utilising recovered materials; and
  • Champion the value and potential of the circular economy and the role of the resources sector within it, recognising the sector’s foundation role in the UK economy and the ambition held by its various industries.

Launching the manifesto, Ray Georgeson, Chief Executive of the Resource Association, said: “General elections always provide an important point of reflection and review of the direction the country is taking.  This one is no exception and if anything is the most important general election for many years.

“In producing our manifesto, our desire is to remind our politicians how important this is, with its twin benefits to the environment and economy.  Environmental progress, protections and the value of our regulated resource industries have been hard won over the past decades. We have so much untapped potential, whatever the ultimate conclusion of the Brexit negotiations proves to be. We hope this is not lost on future policy makers.”

Ten Steps towards a Circular Economy

The Resource Association’s manifesto also sets out a series of policy proposals that it believes would have a ‘transformational effect’ on the UK resources sector, and put the UK on a course to a resource efficient and circular economy, with ‘job creation, better resource use, environmental benefits and high quality recycling at its beating heart’.

These ten steps include calls for a wide review into current waste policy and the use of recycling rates and targets as the primary measure of success (with consideration of residual waste per capita, re-use per capita, carbon and other measures as better metrics), as well as obligations on businesses to separately present all of their recyclable waste and review the current Packaging Recovery Note system.

The association also proposes a new Resources Industry Infrastructure Action Plan to identify what needs to be done on recycling market development, building on the original work and remit of WRAP, and examining all necessary aspects of action needed.

This, it says, should include the assessment of fiscal measures that could accelerate re-use and recycling, including the use of recycled content, and ‘urgent’ research into the feasibility of legislation for minimum recycled content in key product streams, prioritising those most urgently in need of underpinning with legislation, such as plastic bottles.

Alongside this action plan, the Resource Association says the government should commit to an independent review of product design in relation to barriers to recyclability, and identify a ‘route map to recyclability’ for products that use materials that are not conducive to recycling.

The full ten steps towards a circular economy, suggested by the Resource Association are:

  1. Undertake a comprehensive review of English waste policy, transforming the present policy base into a resources and circular economy strategy for England. This would include a Stern Review-like look at the environmental and economic case for action on resources use, scarcity, and efficiency, as well as re-evaluating the use of recycling targets as the primary measure of success.
  2. Establish a statutory duty on businesses to collect and submit data on waste and resource use, to aid full understanding of materials flows and impacts, and infrastructure planning.
  3. Bring forward a ban on biodegradable waste to landfill with a duty to provide separate food waste collections available to every household by 2025. The RA says this should then extend to landfill and, eventually, incineration bans on key recyclables as markets and end uses for recyclates are fully developed, within a timeframe running to 2030.
  4. Introduce a requirement for businesses to present separately key recyclables (paper, glass, metals and plastics) and food waste from their premises as already introduced by the Scottish Government.
  5. Establish a statutory duty for local authorities to publish an End Destinations register for waste and recycling, and extend the duty to their contractors to provide the necessary data as part of a ‘necessary move’ to improve public confidence in the recycling process by generating greater transparency in its operations.
  6. Establish a ban on the collection of glass co-mingled with other materials, to ‘significantly improve’ the quality of recyclate and reduce contamination.
  7. Implement a fresh approach to identifying ‘demand-pull’ measures to catalyse demand for products that utilise recyclate in the form of a new Resources Industry Infrastructure Action Plan that identifies the next actions needed on recycling market development, including an assessment of the barriers to and opportunities for that development.
  8. Commitment of new investment to tackle waste crime in the UK and illegal exports of waste sent as recyclate, recognising the value to HM Treasury of increasing tax revenue by reducing tax evasion through waste crime.
  9. Undertake a full review of the Packaging Recovery Note system for producer responsibility for packaging and packaging waste, in the context of the future needs of a resources strategy,  with the completion of necessary reforms to the issue of PERN to create fairer trading conditions for UK reprocessors.
  10. Undertake a review of public procurement rules to identify and remove barriers to the procurement of recycled products and establish minimum standards guidance for procurement of resource collection services.

Association Chairman Peter Clayson added: “Our Manifesto for Resources 2017 is a clarion call to the political parties to respond to the huge environmental challenges we face with practical and inspiring policies that could help transform our economy into a sustainable low-carbon economy, irrespective of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations that dominates current political discourse.”

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) last week published its own manifesto ahead of the election, calling for parties to include commitments to embed progress on resource productivity and efficiency in their own election manifestos, underlining the resource and waste management sector’s existing contribution to the UK economy. More details on the CIWM manifesto can be found in Resource’s previous article.

The full 'Manifesto for Resources 2017: Ten Steps towards a Circular Economy' can be read and downloaded at the Resource Association website.

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