Waste sector ‘requires attention’ according to ICE

In its annual report, the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) has called for clearer leadership in England to develop a circular economy structure and improve the waste sector’s infrastructure.

The ‘State of the Nation: Infrastructure 2014’ report has recommended that the development of a circular economy should be ‘at the centre of government policy across the UK’.

In order to deliver this circular model of waste efficiency, ICE suggests that an Office for Resource Management (ORM) located in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) should be established to tackle a ‘lack of government co-ordination’. Currently, responsibility for waste is spread across nine departments, including Defra, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), BIS and the Treasury.

ICE says that the creation of one coherent body would also provide ‘strategic leadership over resource management policy across government in England.’

This echoes earlier calls from organisations such as the 2020 Conservative’s Group (2020C)to shift responsibility for the waste portfolio from Defra to BIS, and the House of Lords’ recommendation to create a ‘Waste Champion’role within the business department, which has since been taken up by government.

Waste sector ‘requires attention’

The report graded the waste sector infrastructure at C+. According to ICE’s grading scheme, this suggests that the infrastructure ‘requires attention’ and that ‘significant investment is required to improve it to meet needs in the next five years.’

However, the institute suggests that waste policy in England ‘lacks direction’ and that investment in infrastructure has consequently suffered.

Further recommendations call for the UK central government and the devolved administrations to ‘focus on creating a policy, regulatory and commercial environment that encourages private investment in infrastructure serving all of the UK’s waste streams’.

The need for ‘improved waste data in the commercial and industrial (C&I) sector’ was also highlighted as necessary in delivering the 2018 objective of implementing a circular economy throughout the UK.

Circular economy ‘central to the future of resource management’

ICE suggests that a shift from the ‘take-make-dispose’ linear model of resource use to one that extends products’ usage is ‘central to the future of resource management’.

The institute defines that the key aims of a circular model include extracting maximum value from resources, reducing waste and increasing reuse and upcycling.

Although the report revealed that the waste sector has already seen a shift from landfill towards recycling and energy from waste (EfW) in the last 10-15 years, it warned that as the UK economy recovers and population increases, the downturned landfill figures ‘could reverse’.

In addition, the institute suggests that the lack of accurate and up-to-date data in the waste sector makes it ‘difficult to implement’ a circular economy.

The voluntary electronic duty of care (edoc) system has been highlighted as a significant improvement in waste data collection; however, ICE suggests that it needs to be made mandatory in order to ‘provide the anonymised data requited for C&I forecasting’.

Office for Resource Management (ORM) details

In line with earlier calls for a shift of the waste portfolio to BIS, ICE’s report emphasises the need for co-ordination that it believes would best be implemented by an ORM located in BIS.

The report outlines that the ORM would be responsible for:

  • liasing with devolved administrations in pursuit of UK targets and EU regulations;
  • reviewing current competencies and vulnerabilities in the waste sector by ‘modelling scenarios to inform policy making and direction across government and in EU negotiations’;
  • working with stakeholders in developing policy to shift from waste to resource management and to create a circular economy;
  • and leading the setting of national innovation priorities, including future national waste planning policy, updates to national waste management plans and national infrastructure plans.

ESA ‘welcomes’ ICE report

Commenting on ICE’s ‘State of the Union’ report, Barry Dennis, Director General of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), said: “We welcome the ICE’s report on the state of Britain’s infrastructure, which highlights the importance of waste infrastructure for the UK economy.

“ESA agrees with the report’s conclusion that ‘Waste policy in England lacks direction and thus investment in infrastructure has suffered.’ We believe that if there is clear policy and direction, then our members and investors will support new infrastructure developments, which will in turn improve the UK’s ability reach waste targets.

“We also welcome ICE’s call for an ‘Office of Resource Management’ to sit within BIS, which is consistent with ESA’s recommendation in our circular economy report ‘Going for Growth – A practical route to a circular economy’.  With the recent appointment of BIS Minister Michael Fallon as ‘waste champion’ government seems to be moving in this direction.”

Read ICE’s full 'State of the Nation' report.