Waste management industry & Government can build the solid foundations needed to make the circular economy a reality in the UK

Posted On: 
25th July 2019

The Environmental Services Association's Jacob Hayler calls for long-term policy and regulatory clarity following recent government consultations on recycling, plastics packaging and producer responsibility.

"For too long investment in recycling infrastructure has been impeded by market volatility and lack of long-term policy and regulatory clarity"

The Government’s recent consultations on producer responsibility for packaging, consistent recycling collections, a plastics packaging tax, and a deposit return scheme for drinks containers all present a bold and exciting direction of travel for the way we treat resources and waste, and the summaries of responses published this week show that they have strong backing. This support is crucial as the changes being proposed will need the full participation of each part of the value chain, right through from producers to citizens to the waste management sector.

To express their support, the CEOs of the UK’s leading waste management companies penned an open letter to the Secretary of State for Defra, welcoming the strong ambition of the Strategy. Last week they met him to discuss how to make it a reality.

For too long investment in recycling infrastructure has been impeded by market volatility and lack of long-term policy and regulatory clarity. As key businesses at the frontline of delivering services and building waste infrastructure, the CEOs stated that they are ready to invest, but will only have the confidence to do so if the new package of measures provides long-term stability.

To achieve this, we firstly need to improve the consistency of materials entering our recycling facilities. This means eliminating non-recyclable packaging, as well as fast-tracking the introduction of consistent collections to reduce consumer confusion.

Secondly, we will need an estimated 200 new recycling plants to deliver on our recycling targets, and this requires investment. New policy measures, such as a reformed producer responsibility system, must therefore contain long-term contracting options against which the industry can invest. Measures to remove the current uncertainty over timescales in planning and environmental permitting would also help to unlock infrastructure investment.

Thirdly, there is no point increasing the quality and quantity of the material we collect if there is no demand for it. We therefore need policy that encourages and supports domestic markets for recycled materials. The proposed plastics tax is an excellent first step, but we could do a lot more. Other measures, such as the proposed deposit return scheme, must also be implemented with a focus on providing materials for domestic facilities to re-shore valuable economic activity that could otherwise remain overseas.

If this can be secured, then the waste management companies are ready to invest a further £10bn in the next ten years. This investment would create thousands of jobs and save over 7m tonnes of CO₂-equivalent each year, whilst recycling an additional 10m tonnes of materials and generating an additional 7.8GWh of heat and electricity.

Working together, we believe that industry and Government can build the solid foundations we need to make the circular economy a reality in the UK. We now have an opportunity to build on the industry’s track record at delivering transformative change in our sector in the past 20 years, to put us firmly on the path to a zero carbon and zero waste future.