A group of key industry contributors joined keynote speakers, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP and Dr Alan Whitehead MP to debate the progress made since the strategy’s publication. The event was chaired by Lord Teverson.
The strategy entitled ‘Our waste, our resource; A strategy for England’ outlines how the government aims to make the country more resource efficient, reducing the amount of waste produced, and moving to a circular economy.
The live debate also coincided with the confirmation that afternoon that the passage of the Environment Bill was being temporarily postponed. Now likely to be deferred until after the Easter recess, Philip Dunne MP shared the news of the delay with the 140 attendees, by confirming “that the critical thing is to make sure it is in place as soon as possible, before the summer and before the start of COP26 so we lead the way on environmental legislation.”
Key note speakers conclusion
Both keynote speakers addressing the audience, commented that whilst substantial steps forward have been made, a number of milestones have been missed and there are opportunities to go further to align our activities with circular economy principles. They also felt that the Environment Bill contains some narrower definitions on circular economy activities than the strategy proposed.
REPIC was particularly interested in hearing from the Environment Audit Committee chair, Philip Dunne MP, with an update on the progress that has been made since the publication of the committee’s e-waste enquiry report.
Referring to the Environmental Bill, Philip Dunne MP, confirmed that five waste streams were included for mandatory kerbside collection but he had received confirmation that other waste streams such as e-waste and textiles can be added as means of secondary legislation. The committee had made the case for both e-waste and textiles to be added in due course. Philip Dunne MP also shared that the committee was encouraged by the government’s publication, in August 2020, of a list of metrics in which to measure progress. Dunne MP, added: “Some of these metrics are pretty ambitious and begin to move the dial very significantly towards the issue of how we measure per capita material consumption in the UK. At the moment there is a target to double resource productivity by 2050 and that allows resource consumption to continue to increase but at a much, much slower rate of increase than we currently do, compared to GDP growth.
“The committee on climate change was clear. If we want to meet our climate ambitions and reduce the impact of resources on biodiversity and water use and other environmental aspects, then we must reduce the actual consumption of resources, not just the productivity of resource use. And that’s why we are recommending that the government set the target to reduce actual consumption to a sustainable level. There is obviously big debate on what is a sustainable level, but information that we’ve had from analysts suggest that that’s probably roughly half the level of material consumption per capita we have in the UK today. That’s a very substantial ask of public and behaviour change that will be needed to achieve that or significant differences in the way we produce goods or a combination of both.
The invited speakers on the panel each gave an update on the impact of the strategy to date from their sector viewpoint. Speakers included Professors Voulvoulis and Wilson from the Imperial College London, Jacob Hayler from ESA, Pat Jennings from CIWM and WRAP’s head of government and communities, Claire Shrewsbury.
Key themes under discussion in relation to EPR
Louise Grantham, chief executive from REPIC, B2C and B2B producer WEEE compliance scheme, reflected on some of the key themes that are currently under discussion in relation to extended producer responsibility (EPR).
Whilst discussions on the existing producer responsibility regimes are at different stages the themes are relevant to all of them, the key areas Louise addressed covered the requirements for an “all actors approach”, the role of weight based targets, eco-modulation across global markets, fair net costs, and robust enforcement.
Louise put forward a compelling point; “The success of any proposed change is ensuring that we have a full understanding of the lifecycle of a product from manufacturer, through its different uses, to final disposal. This information helps us to identify the people and organisations that can best influence the desired policy outcomes.
“It also identifies those desirable activities that legitimately take place outside reported systems, that should continue but need to be counted – for instance reuse and refurbishment of unwanted electrical products before they become waste. As well as helping to identify those unwanted or illegal activities that require policy intervention.”
The role of weight based targets in an EPR system
Louise Grantham questioned the role weight based targets should have in an EPR system and suggested the system would achieve better results by concentrating on outcomes instead of focussing on waste generation to meet collection targets. A further point for discussion was the extent to which waste legislation in one country can influence product design through eco-modulation when products are created for global markets.
Addressing the issue of costs, REPIC’s chief executive was clear that full net cost recovery should represent a fair net cost. Whilst the resource strategy is clear that costs are not borne by the general taxpayer, they should still be fair to the purchaser of the product who will ultimately bear them. In the longer term, successful EPR measures will result in less waste being generated and the costs of managing this should fall. However, in the meantime, where a cost recovery mechanism may be required, such as for the kerbside collection of packaging, this needs to demonstrate value for money and be subject to strict performance criteria. Louise also spoke on the requirement for robust enforcement measures to be an essential part of legislation, to ensure that all relevant organisations comply and fairly share costs, and that inferior products are not placed on the UK market with the potential adverse effect this has for end-of-life treatment and our ambitions for a circular material flow.