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Resource strategy alignment – let the debates begin!

15th September 2021 Posted by

Blog by Dr Adam Read, Director of External Affairs at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK. 

Welcome back!

I trust you are all rested after your summer break, albeit it was another odd summer given changing travel conditions and any number of COVID variant outbreaks in our favoured locations. It seems things are settling down, but for how long now the schools are back, and many sectors are actively engaging their workforces in planning their return to office locations up and down the country, in our sector that means we should be entering our business conference season. Autumn 2021 looks like being a bumper period for the return of face to face conferences with both LetsRecycle Live and RWM later this month, plus of course CIWM’s Scottish Resources Conference (online), Lets Recycle’s Infrastructure Conference (in person) and CIWM’s Resourcing the Future conference in October (a hybrid event) being some of the obvious highlights. You will be sure to find me in attendance, reflecting on all the key topics that have been keeping us busy these past few months. So, if you are thinking of going, then let’s meet up for a long overdue coffee and chat!

Getting back face to face should add a new impetus to some of these debates, discussions and working groups, at a time when I think many of us are in need of a shot in the arm (so to speak). Online meetings have been a fabulous opportunity during the pandemic to keep things moving, but they aren’t great for networking and they are hard work when you are stuck in front of a screen all day, often multi-tasking, as we all get tired. So it’s time to embrace the opportunity that these live events will bring, and good old-fashioned debate and sharing of insights and experiences in open discussions should be vital as the policy landscape looks to kick on again.

So what policy is on the agenda?

We haven’t seen the end of the DEFRA policy reforms around Extended Producer Responsibility, Deposit Return Schemes and Consistent Collections. In October we should hear back from DEFRA on how they intend to address the consultation responses they received back in May and June this year. They will shape how packaging is designed, collected, reprocessed and recycled, and more importantly how the system is funded from 2025 onwards. They could significantly change the composition and quantity of materials handled by different actors through the value chain. A renewed interest in business stream packaging will also bring new materials into the system.

On top of these reforms we have seen the rekindling of DEFRA’s plans to ban single use plastic packaging and its expansion to consider banning single use cutlery which is due to be consulted on in the Autumn. I do worry about bans on single use plastic items in general, because (just as we said in our consultation responses and in our EFRA Committee enquiry) over-focusing on plastics could result in any number of unintended consequences as manufacturers look to replace plastic packaging with other compostable/biodegradable/reusable alternatives. What we need is a proper focus on single use items full stop, irrespective of the material. Where if plastic is the right choice then so be it. Let’s stop encouraging consumption and actively support reuse, repair and refurb – it’s time to embrace new models of packaging and associated circular business models – so watch this space as DEFRA are actively looking at circular business models and how they can contribute to Waste Prevention.

However, these DEFRA led reforms are not alone, BEIS have been consulting on a number of policy issues in recent months, most of which close in September. These include a review of how the waste sector fits alongside the Emissions Trading Scheme, the opportunities for heat offtake, and perhaps most significantly where the new carbon capture utilisation and storage projects will be located and what funding support these types of projects will get. These policy areas are important for our sector because they will determine how green our end treatment and disposal sites are, what possible taxes they might incur, in terms of carbon and other emissions and ultimately the cost of managing residual waste.

We have also seen the launch of the government’s Hydrogen Strategy just last month, as part of its 10 Point Plan for a green industrial revolution. The government is hopeful that hydrogen will play a big role in the UK’s net zero commitment of cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 with analysis suggesting hydrogen could account for 20-30% of energy consumption by 2050.  Government estimates say the industry will bring 9,000 green jobs and £4 billion investment by 2030, with potentially 100,000 jobs and £13 billion industry by 2050 – so there is a lot of potential here – but what does it mean for the waste and resource sector? A consultation is live right now looking at the cost gap and possible subsidies to help enable hydrogen solutions to take off.

Are we pulling in the same direction?

UK economic, environmental and skills-based agendas have never been so active or aligned.

Whilst we are all scrabbling around to answer the consultations, respond to the enquiries and joint the sprint groups are we taking the time to reflect on how these will all fit together? I fear not. Just how integrated are all these policies and will they all work together in terms of maximising the energy and resource potential of wastes, reducing resource consumption, protecting the environment and delivering new jobs?

Who in government is doing this analysis? Thankfully the likes of the Aldersgate Group, the Green Alliance and a number of other green groups and think tanks are already looking at the synergies, weaknesses and gaps in the planned policy portfolio.

And that’s why I am so excited about the coming months, not because of the workload that we can already plan for in terms of consultation responses and critical analysis of possible policy impacts, but because the programme of events and the increasing number of face to face meetings. The conferences will be a perfect opportunity to start to debate these issues at a time when socialising ideas and concerns is so key to the development of these much needed policies and programmes.

So I look forward to seeing you at an event or three in the coming weeks and months, and if you weren’t already up to speed on the policy reforms I touched on in this blog, then now is the opportunity to go and have a read about them so you can engage fully in these exciting times for policy reform and the shaping of our sector, or at least come to the sessions and bring your notepad!

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