We must engage in the discussions, share insights and help shape the future

9th October 2018 Posted by

Posted by Dr Adam Read.

It seems a long time ago, but August was busy this year.

Busier than normal given the ongoing work Defra have been doing in preparation for the hotly anticipated Resources & Waste Strategy, now expected in November.

Given the workloads, I was both dreading and feeling quite excited about September, a month where I was expecting to spend more time away from home than any other month in the year to date.

Also a month that I knew would require me to travel the length and breadth of the UK so that I could be involved in so many of the leading conferences and exhibitions helping to shape our sector.
I am glad that I have made it through the month, and am having some ‘me’ time in the departure lounge at Edinburgh Airport (coffee in hand, comfy chair) waiting for my delayed flight south.

First up was RWM18

September started with RWM, but not the RWM of old. This year was the first for the new organisers at Prysm, and they immediately stamped their brand and personality on the event, co-locating it with a number of other environmental shows (contaminated land, energy and water) at the NEC, and condensing everything into a two day show instead of three.

The jury is still out on the event, with a mixed bag of anecdotal feedback. There have been murmurings that it wasn’t as good and that it felt a bit more pressured, while others said numbers were up and they have never been so busy. Only time will tell, and there needs to be a period of honest reflection by al parties – exhibitors, visitors, panellists, Prysm and the CIWM to ensure that RWM 19 learns its lessons early and improves its offering for everyone.

Some people were openly disappointed not to hear from government on the upcoming Resources & Waste Strategy. However, many of us ‘in the know’ expected there to be little news from them, given the work that is still going on within Defra to finalise the plan, model option and engage in cross-departmental trading. So let’s not be too judgmental just yet on the event or on government.

What I can say for sure is that the workshops and the technical panels were a raging success, with huge attendance numbers, excellent panellists and lively debate.

RWM panel debate

RWM 2018 panel debate

I was fortunate enough to speak at, chair or facilitate seven sessions over the two days which didn’t leave me much time for socialising or wandering the halls.

Yet feedback I colleagues received suggested uncertainty in the sector aligned with the timing of the event was a perfect storm fuelling some serious sharing, teasing, and unpicking of the big debates. So well done to everyone involved in those panels, they were a real credit.

Next stop the Lancashire Study Tour with CEFLEX

The following week I was off up to Lancashire for a two day workshop and study tour with the CEFLEX project stakeholders, representing 100 major brands including Haribo, Jacobs Douwe Egberts and Nestle.

Packaging, and plastic in particular, has hardly been out of the new this last year, and we hosted the largest ever meeting of technical specialists from around Europe at our EfW site in Kirklees and our Transfer Station and MRF in Darwen.

The two days were a great success as we discussed progress on a number of key workstreams in support of this collaborative initiative to enhance the performance of flexible packaging in the circular economy through better system design solutions.

Major themes included: design guidelines for flexible packaging in a circular economy; a map of the European flexible packaging market; development of sustainable end markets for secondary materials; developing a sustainable business case for collecting all flexible packaging and a pilot project to showcase best practice.

However, on the back of RWM, and the built-in social activities, I was certainly lacking in sleep by mid-September, and that was before I helped facilitate four value chain workshops in London and Manchester.

Ding Ding our Deep Dive workshops!

September also presented an opportunity for SUEZ to showcase much of the work we have been undertaking since March 2018 and the launch of our Vision or Manifesto for a resources and waste plan in England.

As part of our ongoing commitment to Defra to help look at different elements of a new sector and how the value chains might drive change, we have been hosting a number of workshops to help deep dive some of the issues and to bring together key organisations and stakeholders together.

This can help with understanding and test possible scenarios, from EPR to DRS impacts on kerbside collections and what the role of the MRF and PRF might be in an idealised system.

In total we have done 25 of these workshops, but in September we did four specifically with the public to understand better their concerns about recycling, views on producer responsibility, willingness to pay more to boost recycling and what they think needs to happen to help them buy better and recycle more.

The outcomes of these workshops were recently launched on our website, but the one thing that really captured our imagination was their uniform desire for ‘colour consumption’ with packaging being colour coded according to its recycled content and ease of recycling, with red meaning bad, and green meaning good.

Recycling by numbers was also suggested, where all packaging is numbered and no matter what type of collection containers you have at home (bins, bags or boxes of all colours and sizes) you put the containers with a number one on them in the bin with a number one label – simple really!

Recycling by numbers

Recycling by numbers

All aboard for party conferences

It has been a few years since SUEZ have been involved in any of the party events, but if there was ever a year to re-engage then this was it, what with so much policy discussion still ongoing. And this was to be my first time at any of the party events, so I was expecting a real steep learning curve.

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) to speak at their fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, which focused on building a world-leading waste and recycling system that’s fit for the future.

The event was rammed with labour councillors on the whole, and the debate was wide ranging and punchy, with contributions from Rachael Maskell MP, entrepreneur Kresse Wesling MBE, and Allison Ogden-Newton of KBT.

Speakers were passionate, and the discussions that continued long after the session finished, involving contributions from a number of the delegates, politicians and campaigners alike.

I was feeling pretty good about things at this point, and having spent little time this year focused on the Labour Party, thought this was a good way of seeing what they had in mind as the opposition party at this critical time in the UK’s resource sector development.

However, I wasn’t all that impressed. There were only two or three fringe events with a strong environmental flavour (one of which focused on plastics) and no headline sessions or speeches from leading MPs at all.

From my time on site, about 36 hours in total, I felt that waste and resources was definitely not on the radar, and I really think that is a missed opportunity for the Labour Party to really engage in a debate that is bigger than any one party.

My disappointment was compounded while reviewing the Labour party’s green policy paper on my train back south. Their Green Transformation document focuses on preventing climate change, and improving air and water quality and biodiversity, whilst recycling fails to appear and waste is only mentioned in a brief section on plastics pollution. As I said, a real missed opportunity.
But I couldn’t dwell on this for long because I was already planning my next overnighter, this time for three days in Birmingham at the Conservative Party Conference. And this time I was pleasantly surprised by the difference in the two events.

Put aside all the building work happening in Birmingham, and the heavy-handed approach to security taken at the Conservative Conference, and have a look at their programme of speeches and fringe events.

In my three days on site I saw a Secretary of State talk plastics on three different occasions, was witness to two ministers reflecting on producer responsibility and how to effectively fund sustainable waste management, and engaged in some serious local authority reform discussions with a number of politicians.

The whole environment themes were front and centre, with many more events, sessions and more interest from the attendees. Every session I attended had 50 plus participants and discussions continued long after each session was over.

On the first day, environment secretary Michael Gove announced his £15 million food waste redistribution fund, mooted the roll-out of food waste collections and supported extended producer responsibility.

He also openly favoured the role of EPR in driving innovation, recognising the need to create stronger markets for recycled content, and re-emphasising his commitment to phasing out harder to recycle materials.

Gove also stressed no matter how much we recycle, there will always be a need for EfW. He was open in telling delegates that the HM Treasury was moving in the right direction of expanding consumer responsibility, but that the discussions hadn’t quite been finalised yet.

On the second day, SUEZ hosted its own fringe event, in partnership with Policy Exchange called ‘waste or resource’ and were ably supported by an excellent set of panellists – our CEO David Palmer-Jones, Paul Vanston from INCPEN, Carole Taylor from LARAC and Rebecca Pow.

It was a great session looking at what the UK in 2030 might look like and what decisions and systems, policies and interventions need to be put in place in 2018 and 2019. There was a great deal of commonality in the ideas being put forward with EPR and full cost recovery being critical to an evolution in local authority waste management service provision.

Looking back to those the last few days of September, the mood in the Conservative camp was positive and upbeat. The environment is clearly one of their major policy areas right now, and it is not only Defra that is talking resources.

Ever Decreasing Circles in Scotland

Last week I was based in Edinburgh for the Scottish Resources Conference with SEPA, ZWS and the CIWM putting on a great two day event for over 100 Scottish delegates.

Some of the themes remained consistent with debates from the previous weeks, namely EPR reform, recyclate markets and consumer wants and behaviours, but it was always with a Scottish twist.

Day one was kicked off by Cabinet secretary for environment Roseanna Cunningham who set the tone perfectly with her rallying call for Scotland to continue to lead from the front and committing to delivery of DRS as soon as the consultation responses had been analysed.

The session then continued with policy themes high on the agenda including workshops focusing on post-China and post-Brexit recyclate markets, EPR and DRS opportunities (and risks) and litter and fly-tipping solutions.

The final session of the day looked at the Scottish food waste to landfill ban which comes into force in January 2020. There appears to be a great deal of uncertainty about what tonnage still needs to be diverted and how comfortable people are that the target is achievable.

The second day was focused more on circular economy solutions and case studies with sessions focusing on technology innovation, skills development, zero waste places and the bio-economy.

I was thoroughly engaged with the discussions and continue to be surprised at just how much is happening north of the border, not that I agree with everything they are doing.

I believe the food waste to landfill ban needs a rethink, and DRS should not be introduced prior to a UK wide EPR system being agreed upon. But the passion and commitment of government, its agencies and all stakeholders is nothing short of a miracle, and their enthusiasm can be quite infectious.

Time for contemplation

That brings us right up to date. My flight is about to leave, and I am tired. But I am too energised by the level of activity in our sector, the openness of the people, the willingness to share, and the common desire to do better.

As such I am confident that things are heading in the right direction and once I have caught up with some sleep I will be back on point helping to shape the debates and fill in the gaps of any final analysis needed as the resources and waste plan and its associated consultations come to the fore.

But why do we put ourselves through this? The simple answer is because I (we) enjoy it. I love the banter, the debates, the building of robust arguments and challenging the norms.

We do live in the most interesting of times, and we must engage in the discussions, share our insights and help shape the future. Let’s not be passive, let’s be proactive and on the front foot.

Yes the days are long, the content is often pretty tough, and the issues are large and complicated, but that’s no excuse to go hide in your office. Get up, get out, and get involved.

This is the time to listen, a time to hear, a time to understand and a time to contribute to policy development, policy that will shape our sector for the next 25 years.

So with October already upon us and with only a month or two to go until we can expect the Resources & Waste Strategy to be launched, it’s time to get back on the horse for one final foray into the conference & exhibition zone.

I will be in Nottingham with several hundred local authority recycling officers for LARAC and I won’t be taking it easy. I will be involved in a number of workshops covering issues as diverse as contamination at the kerbside, procuring waste contracts, and the role of extended frequency in driving higher diversion.

SUEZ will also be launching the next of our insights papers looking more closely at how EPR will shape the dawn of differential recycling target for LAs and the importance of LA DNA in determining what those targets are.

Much is changing in our sector, and what is common from all of the events from the past six weeks or so is that they are ‘no longer about the freebies, the good food, the late nights and the banter’ – the days of Torbay and CIWM by the sea are long gone.

These events are now about quality content, critical conversations, deeper understanding and personal reflection, but that won’t stop you from picking up a miniature wheelie bin, recycled beer mat or refillable coffee cup in Nottingham next week- but they aren’t the highlight anymore.


This blog was originally published on on 08 October 2018.

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