Waste and resource management – a rapidly evolving sector
This article is the first in a series of insights exploring the evolving Waste & Resources sector. Our second article explores how a business should begin its circular economy journey.
The waste and resources sector must constantly evolve in response to ever increasing pressure to enact positive change in the way that materials are managed. Against a backdrop of ever tightening budgets and increasing legislative pressure, organisations are being pulled by regulations to improve their waste footprint, and pushed by householders, shareholders and stakeholders, to ensure that wastes are managed more sustainably, with minimal impact upon the environment.
Local Authorities, waste contractors and businesses have invested heavily into recycling services and infrastructure from improving the collection of recyclable materials through to their processing and treatment, and yet the UK still recycles less than half of all household waste arisings. While upcoming changes stemming from the Environment Act will focus on improving performance, significant time and effort will be needed to firstly understand the impact of such changes, and secondly to enact change in the most efficient and effective manner. By undertaking a structured options appraisal and value for money assessment, organisations can be guided through such uncertainties in a consistent and transparent manner – considering all available options and understanding the impacts of each in support of shortlisting, before making a final decision on which to pursue, and how.
Changes across services and infrastructure will require both the development of new solutions and the provision of financial investment to support their delivery. Schemes that are anticipated to be a key part of the upcoming Resources and Waste Strategy, including Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), promise new ways of funding these changes to resource management practices. However, while such schemes have been drawn up in headline terms, there is considerable uncertainty regarding the specific means of funding for both the schemes themselves and the wider infrastructure and service development needed to ensure their success.
For Local Authorities, the added question of whether food waste collections from all households will be made mandatory (and whether this will be fully funded by the Government) means that few are willing to make service delivery decisions based on assumptions and uncertainties. That is not to say that preparation for future change cannot be meaningfully progressed now. By proactively assessing the likely changes to future service delivery models (and the associated costs), authorities can be primed and ready to act when the much-required certainty is provided.
The list of challenges faced by all organisations continues to grow; EPR, Plastic Taxes, Packaging Taxes, Landfill bans, DRS, Chemical Recycling, material bans, carbon reduction targets and pressure to embrace a circular economy are all current or imminent developments that organisations will need to consider in their decision making and planning. On top of this, demands that materials are reused and recycled sustainably, calls to reach net zero, regulations to minimise water and energy usage, the protection of social equality and human rights through workplace equality, ethical operations and sustainable investments demand that organisations look at the wider implications of every decision, on every project.
Traditional waste management approaches are therefore quickly becoming outdated and waste producers must now embrace wider, joined up thinking that marries waste and resource management solutions with assessments focused on environmental and social governance, circular economy and sustainability principles. Consideration of resource management using a whole system approach is key to identifying both risks and benefits. The shift towards increasingly sustainable solutions, backed up by circular economy thinking and life cycle assessments, provides a comprehensive understanding of resource impacts at all stages of an organisation’s activities. Solutions must be evidenced and costed, providing certainty that both financial and environmental benefits can be achieved, and detailing the short, medium and long term advantages that staff, customers and stakeholders can expect.
Encapsulating such a broad range of expectations within any project can be overwhelming, particularly when public money is at stake. However, the broadening expectations should be considered as an opportunity to make any project greener, more sustainable, more resilient, more shock-proof and more socially beneficial to local communities. By looking through the lens of circularity and social value, individual projects can play a significant role in meeting the wider aims and objectives of any organisation in delivering real, tangible financial and environmental improvements.
SLR provides support across all areas of resources and waste management, sustainability, circular economy and more. If you are interested in hearing more about our services, or if you would like our support to consider, assess and deliver your specific needs, please get in touch with our team.