he waste and resources sector must constantly evolve in response to ever increasing pressures to improve 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 on 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 only recycles less than half of all household waste. While upcoming changes announced in the Environment Act will focus on improving performance, significant time and effort will be needed to, firstly understand their impact, and secondly to enact them in the most efficient and effective manner.
New solutions and financial incentives
Changes across services and infrastructure will require both the development of new solutions and financial investment to support their delivery. Schemes that are expected to be a key part of the upcoming Resources and Waste Strategy, include the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), promise new ways of funding resource management. 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 a successful implementation.
For local authorities, the added question of whether food waste collections from all households will become mandatory – and whether this will be fully funded by the Government – means that few are currently willing to make service delivery decisions. However, in proactively assessing likely changes to future service delivery models and their associated costs, local authorities will be ready to act when the additional certainty arrives.
[We] 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. Richard Garfield, SLR Consulting
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.
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 – rightly – are asked to look at the wider implications of every decision, on every project.
Traditional approaches are increasingly outdated
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.
Taking a whole system approach to resource management 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 increased 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.
Find out more about EIC's waste and resources group and work.
This blog was adapted from an article which originally appeared on SLR Consulting’s website. RIchard Garfield is Technical Discipline Manager at EIC member, SLR Consulting.