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Wealth from Waste

25th June 2013 Posted by

The Local Government Association’s report Wealth from Waste has been received positively by commentators in both the public and private sectors, an indication that we could be approaching convergence on the outlines of a strategy to power the circular economy. Broadly, they involve introducing “push” levers to get more waste out of landfill (though the Local Government Association’s report is somewhat contradictory here, by asking for a freeze in landfill tax, while at the same time calling for outright landfill bans), complemented by “pull” levers to support and grow the market for recovered materials. We also agree on the importance of striving for high-quality recyclates if these long-term markets for secondary raw materials are to be cultivated, and for the need to combat environmental crime, particularly relating to fraudulent exports.

On other matters, the Local Government Association’s report portrays a parochialism that belies a shared vision for resource management in the UK. For instance, the Local Government Association wants Councils’ landfill tax receipts to be returned to local authorities, while tax receipts relating to commercial waste should capitalize the Green Investment Bank – and not go towards reducing business rates. Why not develop an integrated treatment and processing capability rather than build two separately funded, parallel infrastructure systems?

There is also a glaring absence of any mention of energy-from-waste, a grossly underused source of energy if the total residual waste stream is taken into consideration. The Local Government Association clearly believes energy recovery from residual commercial waste is not their concern. However, Councils would be advised to follow the revision of the Landfill Directive ongoing in Brussels. With England’s recycling levels nudging 45 percent and beginning to plateau, the ever-increasing marginal cost of squeezing out each additional tonne could make Councils again reliant on energy-from-waste as the more cost-effective option, were tighter landfill diversion targets imposed on the UK. Then, sharing energy-from-waste capacity with the commercial sector would make sense. The use of recovered heat to power lower-cost district heating systems and to generally lower Local Authority carbon footprints also seems to have escaped the report’s notice.

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