In a year that has seen BrewDog launch a protest beer against President Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement; P&G close in on its zero-waste and renewables targets; and 44 of 51 UK towns and cities breach air quality rules, it's clear there's been lots of highs and lows in the waste, recycling and environment sector.
Government's 25-year environment plan
The long-awaited 25-year environment plan is expected to be published before Christmas, January 2018 at the very latest.
I think it's essential that the four main waste generating factors form a significant part of this strategy.
The four main route causes are:
1. Updating items, whether it be decorating the home, wanting the latest smart phone, or buying new clothes
2. Items that no longer serve a useful purpose
3. Overconsumption i.e. buying too much food and throwing some away
4. Packaging – Bottles, cans, carboard etc
I'd like to see these route causes tackled within the 25-year plan. Where items are updated by manufacturers and retailers in an effort to provide us with better quality and more useful products, an onus should be placed on those manufacturers and retailers to ensure end-of-life recycling is considered at the early stages of new product development.
This would represent a huge step towards the circular economy and in time would help ensure that products thrown away are able to be reused or recycled in a cost-effective manner, which does not include landfill or energy from waste as an option.
The earth's resources are scarce and extremely costly to access. Although the trend for material possessions is ever increasing, we believe there has to be legislation which will stop the linear products from generation to landfill and create a circular cycle, which means that all products can be made into raw commodity at the end of their useful life and then be used to manufacture new products in the future.
Landfill Tax – a taxing or promising impact?
As the Landfill Tax has made it more expensive to send waste to landfill, by default, it has also made it more difficult and costly to recycle those items commercially viable to be. And if Landfill Tax was increased again, items that are not currently viable for recycling, would become so. The reality is, it's a double-edged sword; reducing waste to landfill is absolutely critical to protect the future of our planet, however, the knock-on effect is that recycling becomes more in demand and so costs increase.
For the public, the impact of the Landfill Tax is most definitely felt in the council cuts that continue to plague Local Authorities and their residents. As LAs put more budget into increasing costs of landfill tonnage, so there is less money available to spend elsewhere.
Zero avoidable waste to landfill by 2050 – realistic or pipe dream?
In its Clean Growth Strategy, the government announced zero avoidable waste to landfill by 2050. While this is a noble aim, it is dependent upon the definition of 'avoidable waste'. All waste can be recycled, however, there is a cost associated with the recycling of certain types of waste. If avoidable waste really means commercially non-viable waste, then we will be no further forward than we are today.
If, however, avoidable waste means that it physically cannot be recycled at any cost, then the government must implement producer responsibility schemes in all areas of waste, which will pay for the responsible recycling of the goods at the end of their useful life.
Although this will impact the initial cost of goods by driving them upwards, from a waste strategy perspective, making items more expensive will undoubtedly see consumers less likely to throw away or update items as often as they do now, which can only be a positive result.
Recycling our waste
Waste as a resource remains a hot topic, and is likely to gather momentum in the coming 12 months. All waste contains raw products that can be used again, however, once again, the barrier to this is cost. If legislation is passed that removes that barrier, then our waste is a resource that can be used in lieu of virgin materials.
Fly tipping – tipping the onus to the producer
While many Local Authorities continue to battle this ongoing problem, in my view, the only real way to tackle waste is by the goods producer taking responsibility for what they put on the market.
Producer responsibility forces designers, manufacturers and retailers into considering what will happen to goods at the end of their useful life and designing products that take this into account.
There are some excellent examples of retailers providing take back schemes, or drop off points, however, these are provided as a service to the customer rather than having any impact on the design of the items or the responsibility of the items which a full producer responsibility scheme would provide.
Large enterprises – setting an example on carbon?
Recent research revealed that just 30 per cent of top 250 firms have strong goals to curb emissions, despite accounting for a third of all carbon emissions. Given that these emissions are such a massive problem, it's critical that we tackle the issue if we want to look after and protect the world we live in.
There are actually some very simple steps that businesses can take to reduce carbon emissions, such as logistics planning to ensure that vehicles are full with every mile driven, and low carbon vehicles are used, serviced and maintained regularly.
Businesses can save huge carbon emissions by working sensibly and I think that if the government offered tax incentives based on carbon offset, the use of public transport, conference calling and solar and wind energy generation for business premises would flourish, placing it firmly at the top of boardroom agendas, across the country.
Paying your LA for what you recycle
Local Authorities are increasingly charging for certain services, for example garden waste. As a nation, we're generating more and more waste every year and for us to be able to treat that waste correctly and responsibly, the costs must be borne by British residents, whether that be through general taxation or by direct charging of individuals.
Thinking about garden waste in particular, I find it unfair that those without gardens have to pay the same as people who do have gardens, therefore, direct charging of people for garden waste will only affect the people that access those services – which in my view, seems fair.
Should producer responsibility be applied to all waste, then it's without question that the charges for that scheme will trickle down to the customers via increasing costs of products. For example, if you buy a mattress with a producer responsibility scheme in effect, the price of recycling that mattress at the end of its useful life will be added, in some way, to the price you pay as a consumer.
If you buy one mattress and keep it for 10 years, you will pay a lot less than someone who buys a new mattress every year. This is fair because the customers that consume more product, and therefore create more waste, will pay more in recycling levies.
Ultimately, I would hope that the increased burden on consumers will drive us away from the throwaway society we're currently in, and return us to buying quality goods that will last.
Waste management is one of the key problems of modern society as the sheer volume and complexity of waste continues to increase. It's therefore critical that in the foreseeable future, waste strategy, producer responsibility and circular economy are put high on the agenda of DEFRA, manufacturers and retailers as well as the general public.