Waste strategy failing as manufacturers face resource shortages

Posted on 9 Jan 2012 by Tim Brown

Britain’s manufacturers are urging government to develop a far more ambitious approach to the management of waste in the UK as survey evidence shows that the shortage of materials is now the biggest threat to manufacturers.

The call is made in a review of the “Government’s Waste Strategy: six months on” published today by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation.

As part of its review, EEF is calling for a new approach to legislation which is unnecessarily complex, confusing and based on out of date assumptions. For example, it still assumes waste will be sent to landfill, even though less than a quarter of waste manufacturing is disposed this way. In addition all companies should have access to local authority recycling facilities, regardless of where they are based.

The government should work with industry to develop a resource strategy that will enable materials, particularly those in scare supply, to be re-used and to speed up their movement across the economy. Such a strategy would make it easier for companies to make the most out of the waste they and others produce and reduce our dependence on imports.

The call was backed by an EEF survey of senior manufacturing leaders showing 80% now regard a shortage of raw materials as a risk to their business. Of these, two thirds said it was their top risk. In addition, 1 in 6 companies said that a shortage of raw materials is now a brake on growth.

Commenting, EEF Head of Climate & Environment, Gareth Stace, said:

“Waste policy has for sometime been the forgotten element of the green agenda. But, with global demand for resources expected to soar in the future and manufacturers already rating raw material shortages as their biggest risk, we must not miss the opportunity to make the best of what we have.

“Government policy has gone some way towards recognising these risks but to date it has not gone far enough. We now need a more ambitious approach which involves a resource strategy for the UK, simplified legislation and an improved infrastructure involving better access to local authority recycling.”

EEF’s report sets out three key priorities for more ambitious action.

1. A clear and long term resource management strategy setting out a vision for how the UK will make the most of available resources.

EEF’s analysis shows that as well as leading to significant competitive opportunities for manufacturers in resource efficiency, such a strategy would reduce the amount of waste the UK exports. Currently, fifteen million tonnes of waste is exported, half of which is scrap metal. This is exported due to infrastructure shortfalls and market forces. A resource strategy could ensure more of these resources are captured for domestic use.

2. Waste legislation and guidance must be simplified to allow businesses to fully contribute to sustainable waste and resource management

Rebalancing waste legislation is needed which views waste as a resource to be re-used where possible and not disposed as a first option. Currently UK legislation is twenty years out of date in this respect and the sheer volume and complexity of waste legislation makes it difficult for companies to know how to comply and make best use of these resources. An up to date ‘better regulation’ and smarter policy framework would both enhance commercial opportunities whilst protecting the environment.

3. Facilitate speedy delivery of necessary infrastructure and advisory services

Currently a lack of convenient and affordable recycling facilities is a major barrier to business waste recycling and EEF has set out a number of recommendations to address this. In particular, while government recently published the Business Recycling and Waste Services Commitment, which sets out the principles of how local authorities can help make it easier for businesses to recycle, it is voluntary. EEF is calling for this commitment to be part of national policy aimed at firms of all sizes.