It is not something that can be quickly or easily resolved, however if we can appreciate all the values that exist within our waste streams, then it will be somewhat easier to make the links to a green/low carbon economy and resource efficiency.
I have identified below some potential value chains to explore:
- Resource efficient saving and associated reduction in emissions and impacts from designing out waste and designing in re-use/recyclability. Triple bottom line sustainability.
- Improved potential for closed loop use of materials/resources through high quality collection and handling techniques.
- Improved resource security for Rare Earth metals and other essential materials.
- Potential for 3rd sector involvement through breakdown and segregation of waste streams and fragmentation of large contracts to localise collection and treatment. This will create more jobs through improved collection rates and end quality, as well as improved scope for community buy-in.
- High quality recyclate for UK re processors or export that will command best price and maintain confidence in supply chain.
- Options for recovery of materials through treatment and use to substitute virgin materials, thus improving amenity and protecting against price increases for raw materials.
Recent changes and upheaval in the planning system however, have led to a bit of an impasse with an unwillingness to invest, created by the uncertainty and the recession. The regulatory framework (revised Waste Framework Directive and Industrial Emissions Directive) have sustainability at their core and thus, provide some stability from which to build in terms of new and refurbished infrastructure.
The Waste Hierarchy being designed to signpost the most sustainable options for waste and resource management delivers on the triple bottom line, hence working to it, should deliver economically sound options. The only question to really be answered is how the issue between longer term investment (which should be more sustainable), plays out against other shorter term market mechanisms (such as RHI and ROC's)?
The waste industry, both physically and economically, will shortly find itself at a crossroads. The advent of disruptive technologies and markets methods will, sooner or later, focus on the waste industry. I believe that the current model supported by long term contracts and large scale plant will find itself outflanked by smaller, more nimble and flexible logistics companies, who will break down the collection of currently mixed waste streams, into discreet and segregated streams that will get treated and recovered at specialised facilities.
This will be driven not only by market disruption, but also by regulation and the fact that as values for materials (of good quality) improve, the bulking and value realisation will move downstream towards the re processors. This will be a realisation of Producer Responsibility (in part) and also of CSR driving a wider producer responsibility. The days of large MBT/MRF type plant, handling a huge range of wastes are likely to be numbered as waste streams and value fall away and they become confined to municipal waste streams. It is likely that municipal waste will be treated in the same way for a longer period, as behaviour change in this domain will take longer, although it is still likely that retail will take much of its waste back in-house over time.
It will however, herald great opportunities better distribute the value of waste and for more of it to benefit the community in which it arises, through the setting up of social enterprises to deal with collection, re-use and stage one sorting (clean up) and bulking. This would require more modest facilities with lower capital and running costs, however this would need to realise higher values as economies of scale would be lost.
This might overcome many of the conflicts associated with large waste handling and treatment facilities, as the greater number of smaller facilities would be dealt with as local planning issues and would be much lower key in terms of impacts.
Use of green buildings, green transport and the creation of green/low carbon jobs locally would see a much greater acceptance of facilities. Hopefully there would be something for everyone in return for something that we all contribute to (i.e. community compost for gardens and refurbished bikes)!