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Blog: SITA UK's Stuart Hayward-Higham on grasping opportunity and incentives

Date: 2/12/2013 | Author: Stuart Hayward-Higham

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In his first blog, SITA UK's development director Stuart Hayward-Higham looks at missed opportunities and incentives to avoid landfill

Missing Opportunities

The waste-to-resource sector is one of the most active, rapidly growing and capital-intensive sectors in the UK at this time.

Our sector has a value in excess of £12 billion pounds and directly employs well over 100,000 people. It reportedly grew at a rate of 3.1% this year and is expected to grow by more than 4% next year. It is also, arguably, one of the biggest construction employers in the UK at present. So you would think that Government would be actively involved in channelling, fostering and helping us to improve the country’s sustainability and achieve continued growth in our sector.

But unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be case anymore. DEFRA wrote to the industry in November to tell us that they were unable to maintain their current level of effort and were, in effect, withdrawing from many active areas of involvement in our sector, due to funding constraints. So what are the implications?

To start with, this could have a detrimental effect on England’s ability to pull its weight towards meeting the revised EU Waste Framework Directive (rWFD) targets. I’m certainly not the only one to notice this – for example, the recent Hertfordshire Waste Partnership report also recognised that UK target compliance now appears dependent on the efforts of the devolved administrations. In fact, Government’s own response to Europe on the rWFD targets implies a degree of uncertainty.
Having well defined targets to aim for is of great importance to the sector, because working towards them has driven much of the development and change that the industry has achieved and should seek to continue to capitalise on.

We understand that Defra’s resources are stretched, like many other Government departments and private companies, but it is important that the resources available are used in a clever and focussed way to drive investment and secure the future. So what would I use any limited resource for if asked?  

Firstly, I would use it for stricter compliance enforcement, so that less scrupulous operators (like the ones recently stung in Environment Agency raids) cannot make elicit profits at the expense of legitimate operators.

Secondly, I would adopt a resource policy that seeks to manage UK resources and balance both the energy and resource market drivers. Supporting the current economic recovery in a sustainable way is essential, as is targeted investment in key areas and balanced, clear and deliverable policy. Without policy and despite the sector’s best efforts, we will miss opportunities.

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Push or pull?

A recent letter from the Seven Association Alliance suggests that £200 per tonne landfill tax levies will increase recycling. Obviously increasing the penalty for landfilling waste will drive material away from it, but if the purpose is to encourage more recycling of plastic and other materials, it may not deliver the goal in the way and scale intended.

Landfill tax has been a strong driver of change and has contributed to the recorded reduction in waste to landfill. For the last couple of years alternative solutions have become available at market rates lower than the sum of landfill tax and gate fees, so its influence in pushing solutions continues to diminish. Therefore, having done its job, will making a big jump in landfill tax drive further change?

It will drive further reductions in landfill, but the market is already doing that, as other landfill solutions are more economical and environmentally beneficial. The issue is around the capacity to treat materials arising from landfill diversion and the preferred and/or most economically sustainable solutions for the materials arising.

Would it not be better that we press Government to value the resources we extract from waste by complimenting our existing energy saving schemes, such as feed-in tariffs - which offer financial incentives to encourage uptake of renewable electricity-generating technologies?

Creating a resource incentive system that balances with the existing energy schemes would pull resources in the desired direction and underpin our national economic recovery on a sustainable, resource efficient and long term basis.

To me, this is a far more productive and focussed option, than another landfill tax increase. In the same way that the energy policies have complimented landfill diversion and are helping drive a new wave of infrastructure, a resource policy delivered in a similar manner as energy policy, has the opportunity to not only drive infrastructure in resource recovery and create more jobs, but might also stimulate more domestic manufacturing by making use of the materials we recover.

A big stick can be used to push change, but we all react better to the “carrot”. Perhaps a resource incentive system would provide the pull to help complete our waste revolution?

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