Resource Use

Government should 'radically rethink' its approach to waste

A new briefing report published by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) has called for an overhaul in the UK government’s approach to waste policy.

Speaking at the launch of the report, ‘The Waste Line – Redefining ‘waste’ and improving resource management policy’, at the Resource Association’s annual conference Mark Rowney, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR said: “We believe Britain has to radically rethink the way it approaches resources. We need to depart from the linear approach. The bar for waste policy has to be raised and that means a radical rethink of the philosophy behind waste policy.”

Downey criticised the lack of leadership from the government. He added: “Since the Coalition has come to power, waste policy has stalled. The Landfill Tax escalator has been abolished [although it will still rise in line with inflation], all English targets have been scrapped and work on English waste policy related to construction, demolition, industrial and energy-from-waste policy has stopped.”

The IPPR report calls for three strategic goals that need to be addressed in order to expand ‘waste’ policy into a resource-management policy. These are:

  • a better understanding of the UK’s resources by business and government;
  • a cultural and behavioural shift throughout society in favour of reusing materials; and
  • an end to the 'inefficient and polluting' treatment of secondary materials.

Outlining the briefing reports ambition, Downey stated: “Our first recommendation is the creation of a cross departmental Office for Resource Management, but within Defra not BIS [the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills]. This office would be staffed by secondees from across industry and other government departments, including HM Treasury. It would have its own minister and should be tasked with increasing our understanding of resources, getting that essential data and facilitating a cultural change in the use of resources.”

The report’s further recommendations cover food waste, as this, says Downey, is a highly visible target that can drive behaviour change. Consequently, the IPPR report recommends changes to food labelling, removing the classification of ‘Best Before’, such that the only information on food packaging should be ‘Use By’ dates.

Downey states that a key aspect of a policy shift towards resource efficiency should require further fiscal levers to be pulled to impede waste disposal. He commented: “The Treasury should consider gradually reintroducing increasing penalties for sending waste to landfill. And we have to start thinking of some incineration as analogous to landfill.”

Keynote Speech

Addressing delegates at the London conference, Dan Rogerson, Minister for Resource Management, said: “The role of government is to facilitate the transition to a circular economy, to make sure the right framework is in place, and that businesses have the tools and the freedom to realise those benefits.

“For example, through our Action Based Research programme we are funding about £1.2 million of projects, working with business groups, researchers and civil society to develop innovative solutions and better understand the barriers that are there preventing us from improving resource efficiency.

“We’ve found one of the barriers for SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] to implementing resource efficiency improvements is that many don’t have the expertise, the knowledge or the time to deliver that change, so we are therefore funding a fantastic pilot project led by the Environment and Sustainability Partnership, in partnership with Bangor University, EEF and Rolls Royce, which is piloting a shared resource efficiency management model, which supports managing a small cluster of manufacturing SMEs along the Rolls Royce supply chain. While it is still in an early phase, we have already learnt valuable lessons about the benefits of such a model in helping SMEs.”

Responding to a question about where in government resource efficiency policy resided said: “For clarity, it’s in my job title, not anyone else’s, so the buck stops here. There’s no way in any government department you can work in isolation. I’ve talked about innovation, about wanting to access markets overseas, that’s very much a BIS role. The role Michael Fallon has been given is around the bioeconomy, so if we have fractions of material to capture and make more use of, then what does that unlock in terms of innovation and new technologies further down the line? But in terms of having a view about moving towards a circular economy, that’s very much a thing that Defra would lead on.”

Report reaction

Responding on behalf of the Environment Services Association (ESA), Barry Dennis, Director General said: The release of this [IPPR] briefing paper on resource policy is very timely, as it has coincided with the launch of the EEF report into resource security. Positively, at first sight of both documents, they identify a number of recommendations that are interlinked.

“ESA and its members will be reading both the briefing paper and the report carefully to see where the similarities and conflicts occur.  However, one thing is certain; our resources must be managed effectively, and clear guidance from the government is required to help industry and business do that to push the circular economy forward.”

According to UK Without Incineration’s (UKWIN) National Coordinator, Shlomo Dowen: “The IPPR briefing paper provides further support for UKWIN’s contention that incineration has no place in a closed-loop, circular economy. We need government action to help councils and businesses produce less, recycle more, and move away from incineration”.

Read‘The Waste Line – Redefining ‘waste’ and improving resource management policy’.