Policy change needed to support uptake of resource recovery technology

The RRfW programme has found that the adoption of resource recovery as part of the transition to a circular economy needs to be further promoted by a favourable policy landscape.

Working with multiple stakeholders across industry, government and academia, RRfW assessed the political and regulatory challenges to adoption of new resource recovery technologies, processes and systems. According to both industry and government commentators, resource recovery has the potential to deliver huge benefits including financial savings, creating jobs, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and pollution, and improving the UK resource security of critical strategic materials. Despite these touted opportunities and benefits, transition to a circular economy remains slow and the current policy landscape could do more to support this transition.

Defra’s recently launched Resources and Waste Strategy offers cautious room for optimism (see our response to the Resource and Waste Strategy), however, this only covers England. Action across the UK is currently being driven by EU directives and there is a risk that without urgent action both momentum and coordination for circular economy will be lost post-Brexit.

In order to evolve the policy landscape to better support the uptake of resource recovery technology as part of the transition to a circular economy, RRfW has put forward four major policy recommendations:

  1. Integrate assessment of multi-dimensional costs and benefits into decision making: the incorporation of multi-dimensional values into decision-making needs to occur at the highest level of government. The Treasury needs to build on Green Book guidance to include monetised and non-monetised values on economic, environmental, social and technical aspects. Avoiding the subjective conversion of all measurements into e.g. money or carbon equivalents will aid transparency. This requires new data collection and analysis systems that enable comparison of different units of measurement; such a model has been developed by the CVORR project.
  2. Collect data on stocks and flows of material quantity and quality: data is currently collected in response to regulatory targets driven by public health or environmental legislation rather than for resource recovery, preventing effective policy-making and investment in this area. Material flows need to be measured from point of extraction/production, through fabrication, use and end-of-life options, so that it is possible to assess interventions across the entire supply chain.
  3. Launch Office for Resource Stewardship to coordinate government action: resource recovery can contribute to strategic targets across government e.g. resource efficiency targets (Defra) could contribute significantly to decarbonisation (BEIS) and, vice versa, climate targets should incorporate resource efficiency. We propose an Office for Resource Stewardship to formalise collaborations between government bodies such as Defra, BEIS, National Infrastructure Commission and Environment Agency. Such an office could facilitate a more holistic and integrated approach to resources, moving away from treatment at ‘end-of-pipe’ to whole system perspectives in order to identify key opportunities and intervention points.
  4. Knowledge, skills and infrastructure for a circular economy: a ‘circular economy network’ should be established to build a comprehensive programme of business support, sharing essential circular economy knowledge and skills. This would also facilitate industries in developing resource efficient sustainable supply chains and industrial symbiosis, where wastes from one process become inputs for another.

More detail on these overarching policy recommendations can be found in our RRfW end-of-programme brochure on pages 39-40.

Further more specific policy recommendations can be found in our policy and practice notes The organic waste gold rush and Making the most of industrial wastes, and an overview of all our policy work can be found on our policy webpage.