Barry Sheerman MP hosts Kit Strange Memorial Lecture

The late Kit Strange (1954-2011), Director of the Resource Recovery Forum and pioneer of the idea of seeing waste as a resource (pictured, above), was remembered at an event hosted by Labour MP for Huddersfield, Barry Sheerman, at the House of Commons yesterday (15 January).

The inaugural Kit Strange Memorial Lecture, organised by Resource Media in partnership with Copper Consultancy and the University of Northampton, saw members of the waste and resources industry, as well as academics, environmentalists, and local government officials, gather at the Churchill Room in the House of Commons to remember Strange, and hear Steve Read (pictured, below), Managing Director of Somerset Waste Partnership, outline whether we are any closer to realising Strange’s concept of a resource-efficient world.

In his speech, Read spoke movingly and fondly of Strange, whom he labelled a ‘prophet’ of the waste-as-a-resource movement and a central figure in encouraging collaboration in resource efficiency across different sectors.

Highlighting that many view the municipal waste problem as being ‘sorted’ (due to current infrastructure, or that in the pipeline), Read warned that there is a risk momentum could be lost in ensuring society moves to less wasteful practices, especially as government research in the circular economy, and waste as a whole, is to be ‘scaled back’.

He acknowledged that though there is work going on to reduce individual waste streams, there was little being done to reduce waste as a ‘homogenous entity’.

Indeed, he said that the fact England’s recycling rates are ‘flatlining’ is not due to local authority budget cuts or ‘austerity’, but a ‘capacity restriction in driving behaviour change’ and ‘an absence of levers like high landfill tax, pay-as-you-throw charges, and unchallenging levels of producer responsibility’. He added that devolved UK governments that have implemented higher standards, such as Wales, have thus seen higher recycling rates, and likened the levels to a rugby score: ‘Wales 51- England 43’.

According to Read, areas for ‘innovation’ to rectify this could include:

  • Improving waste collection, and introducing pay-as-you-throw;
  • Advancing sorting techniques;
  • Investing in new waste technologies;
  • Linking of agents in the supply chain;
  • Designing products for disassembly;
  • Creating ‘more sophisticated’ recovery targets; and
  • Encouraging remanufacturing, leasing and reuse of products.

Despite this, Read said there were some ‘reasons to be cheerful’, including: large companies increasingly setting waste avoidance and reduction targets; more consolidation of waste management suppliers; and more transparency in end destinations of materials.

He concluded: “Are we closer to a resource-efficient economy? Well, it’s certain that the concept is better understood and embedded into mainstream thinking, and that there is a better understanding of the interdependence between sectors and those of us who dwell on the circular economy loop. And, we have more responsibility now for what we produce... so we’re moving in the right direction, but there is more to do. And momentum cannot be lost.”

Rounding up, Read mourned the loss of Strange (who passed away suddenly in 2011) and restated some of Strange’s words from his final editorial of The Warmer Bulletin:  “It is fascinating to see how far we have come since 1974, when scientists suggested for the first time that CFCs might damage the ozone layer, and the world’s population reached 4 billion.

“The 2008 Waste Framework Directive (WFD) is a reworking of the first WFD, approved in 1975, and even then busily promoting prevention and reuse.

“I can’t decide whether the undoubted progress made since I was a schoolboy has been because of, or despite, the grinding of policy-making.

“I’ll get back to you in 2046 (when, though 92, I plan to be taking an active interest in these topics).”

Read added that although Strange passed away before he could realise this mission, he would “not be disappointed to see this gathering and the network we’ve created”, adding that if resource efficiency does become a lasting legacy, it’s “down to Kit”.

'Let's rededicate ourselves to Kit’s legacy'

Strange was also remembered by John Twitchen, Executive Director of Copper Consultancy (supporters of the Kit Strange Memorial Lecture), Charles Newman, Chief Executive of Resource Media, and Sheerman, who called for renewed thinking in the area of resource efficiency, saying: “We need to renew our passion to make a difference… it’s too easy to be content with where we are and relax, let’s wake up, work harder, and get more young people involved in this sector and in protecting the environment.

“We’ve got the focus to radically change the world, let’s harness that and use it to rededicate ourselves to Kit’s legacy and make a difference in this very important idea.”

Also at the event, the winner of Resource’s Hot 100 (an annual list of the waste and resources industry’s most influential people, as voted for by the industry) was announced, with Iain Gulland, Director of Zero Waste Scotland, coming out top for 2013.

The inaugural Kit Strange Memorial Lecture was supported by WRAP, Copper Consultancy, SITA, LRS Consultancy, Resource Futures, the University of Northampton, and Resource Media.

Find out more about Kit Strange’s work in waste, and read the full Hot 100 list in Resource 75, available if you subscribe by emailing [email protected].