The UK has an opportunity to redefine how we view waste and resources and move towards treating waste as an economic resource. Paul Taylor, chief executive of UK waste and resource management company, FCC Environment, reports.
Now that Article 50 has been triggered, signalling the formal start of the UK’s departure from the EU (Brexit), a conversation about how we can boost the UK’s overall competitiveness to allow us to distinguish ourselves economically from the rest of Europe is going to need to be had.
Waste and resources is one of a number of policy areas which the UK has ceded control of to the EU. Historically, this has meant that there have been limited opportunities for the UK to develop a waste policy framework that is best suited to the needs of the country. It has also meant that waste has been viewed almost solely through an environmental lens. That is, until now.
While it’s difficult to predict the road ahead, particularly now we are in the run-up to a general election, what’s clear is that as the UK navigates its future position outside the EU, there is an opportunity to fundamentally redefine how we view waste and resources in this country and move towards treating waste as an economic resource.
There is a growing consensus that effective and efficient management of resources has the potential to significantly boost industry. Research by Accenture has shown that improvements in resource productivity, i.e. reducing the amount that spent on raw materials and waste management, could unlock as much as US$4.5tn of global growth.
While analysis by Oakdene Hollins suggests that UK firms could realise resource efficiency savings of £55bn a year (increasing gross profits by 5%), mainly through improvements in waste management practices. The bulk of these potential savings relate to the construction sector, and manufacturing (where an estimated 45% of costs relate to materials).
The UK’s waste infrastructure
There has been some recognition of the potential for resource productivity at a policy level, not least in the government’s burgeoning Industrial Strategy. We welcome this, and would like to see waste and resources aligned even more closely with the Industrial Strategy. However, in order to make this a reality, the UK needs to urgently prioritise investment in its own waste infrastructure.
In particular, increased investment in Energy from Waste (EfW) – the process of burning waste to create green energy – would be welcomed. EfW is a cost-effective, scientific and innovative treatment process, which has the potential to play an important role in decarbonising heating and transport.
Its efficiency lies in the re-use of waste to produce energy, which can be used to heat homes, offices and shops. Through this technological innovation, EfW creates a utility of our waste, boosting resource productivity and overall economic performance.
A new report published by Policy Exchange in March found that UK waste management companies spent £280m exporting our waste to Europe in 2016. Our domestic waste was then burnt to produce energy to heat homes and businesses in those countries.
With investment, the UK can start to re-coup these losses, especially in the post-Brexit economic climate where the UK needs to start developing its own home-grown solutions to resource inefficiency. Moreover, investment in EfW can help secure the UK’s energy security. With many traditional sources of energy, such as coal fired power plants, closing in the near future, the UK has a very real need to secure its energy supplies and ensure energy remains affordable for all. Alternative and renewable energy sources, such as EfW, are therefore vital to ensure such security.
Resource productivity is set to play a crucial in helping our country to flourish post-Brexit. We strongly support the development of a new Industrial Strategy, and believe that investment in waste infrastructure, alongside recognition of its contribution to UK GDP, will enable the UK to make the most of the new regulatory and economic landscape that will emerge in the UK post-Brexit.