Circular economics: putting waste back to work

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) dissects some helpful tools to help manage the complicated regulatory system around waste management.

Extracting value from waste materials by turning them back into safe, high quality products is an important consideration for businesses in the move towards greater resource efficiency and a more circular economy.

CIWM PQIt can save on disposal costs, offer the potential for additional income or reduced raw material costs if recycled back into the business, and improve a company’s environmental credentials.

However, the term ‘waste’ positions a material within a framework of environmental legislation with regards to its handling, recycling, treatment and/ or disposal.

This legislation is essential – it is designed to ensure that materials capable of causing harm to the environment and people are managed safely.

For regulators across the EU, therefore, the challenge lies in achieving the right balance between removing the regulatory burden for low risk waste-derived materials and protecting the environment.

Sitting at the heart of this tension is End of Waste (EoW), a complex area of EU legislation that is enshrined in the EU Waste Framework Directive 2008.

Aimed at supporting resource efficiency, the EoW framework sets out the overarching requirements that have to be met for waste-derived materials to be considered as a ‘product’ rather than a waste.

However, aside from developing individual EU-wide regulations for specific waste streams – iron, steel and aluminium scrap, glass cullet, and copper scrap – the Commission has left Member States to implement EoW requirements unilaterally.

In the UK, this is driven by domestic case law and regulatory approach. In England, the Environment Agency has taken a two-pronged approach: Quality Protocols (QPs) that set out EoW criteria for specific wastes, and opinions on company-specific EoW applications by the Agency’s dedicated panel.

These approaches are delivering tangible benefits. By 2014 the Environment Agency had launched 11 QPs, which by 2020 could help businesses save £139m a year through reduced waste management costs and generate £355m a year through the sale of ‘new’ resource that would otherwise have been disposed of.

In total, between 2014/15 and 2020/21, these changes are projected to be worth £3.58bn to businesses.

Free business support tools from EQual

However, because of potential economic and environmental benefits that can be realised, there is demand across Europe for better definitions and guidance.

Recognising this, the Environment Agency and six partner organisations secured around €3m of EU Life+ funding to develop two free business support web-tools through the EQual (Ensuring Quality of waste derived products to achieve resource efficiency) programme.

The IsItWaste web-tool empowers businesses to assess and make informed decisions about whether a waste-derived material is a by-product, achieves End of Waste criteria or remains a waste.

The tool can be used as self-assessment alone, and the assessment can also be submitted online to the Environment Agency (for sites in England) for their opinion.

It provides a step-by step approach which guides users through key decision stages including risk assessment and end markets.

CIWM LinkThe QP Checker web-tool enables businesses to self-assess their compliance with the criteria set out in some of the Quality Protocols.

Developed initially for compost and recycled aggregates, the tool is now being extended to cover anaerobic digestate and pulverised fuel ash.