Measuring net-environmental improvements: 25 Year Environment Plan consultation response

Response to the 25 Year Environment Plan Indicator Framework Consultation by the Resource Recovery from Waste Programme.

The 25 year environment plan (25YEP) “sets out our goals for improving the environment within a generation and leaving it in a better state than we found it”. In other words, it aims for a net-improvement of the environment that is proposed to be enshrined in law in the draft Environment Bill. A key commitment to the 25YEP is the development of an indicator framework to monitor environmental change.

The framework adopts a natural capital approach, distinguishing three types of outcomes and goals: reducing pressures on the environment; improving the state of environment assets; and increasing the benefits from environment assets. In total 65 system indicators are proposed, grouped under 15 headline indicators that are linked to key themes of the 25YEP. Indicators will use a traffic light system to clarify whether it is positive/ improving, negative/ deteriorating, or no change/ uncertain.

A critical ability of the indicator framework must be to measure net-environmental gain in line with the core ambition of the 25YEP and proposed Environment Bill to improve the environment. We assessed the likelihood that the proposed set of indicators will pick up on net-benefits and herein respond to consultation question 2 regarding “Potential gaps in the headline indicators and / or system indicators and how to fill those gaps”.

Generally the indicators appear to be open to interpretation and the implementation will determine whether the values that are to be assessed will measure the slowing down of environmental decline, i.e. whether the impact of essentially unsustainable behaviours is decreasing, or if there is an actual reverse of negative trends by adopting sustainable behaviours that contribute to net-environmental gains. Taking waste management as an example, then the increased recycling of materials at end-of-use is generally an improvement compared to landfill and energy-from-waste but the production of wastes is still in essence an unsustainable behaviour, and it would be best replaced by the more sustainable behaviour of preventative measures that design wastes out of the production-consumption system where it is avoidable.

The overriding model underpinning the framework appears to largely assume that people cause negative pressure on the environment on the one hand and take benefits from nature on the other hand. This expresses largely a negative relationship with our environment, while people also have the ability to enrich and strengthen it. For example, some of the most biodiverse landscapes are those that are managed by people. People are an integral part of the environment and must exploit resources to live, we would like to see more attention for approaches that positively restore and regenerate the environment and for the adoption of accompanying indicators. This change in thinking appears to have happened for biodiversity conservation already, in which goals and actions are increasingly defined to grow biodiversity rather than to focus only on reducing negative impacts from our behaviours on the living world. This approach not only tells people which behaviours to reduce, but also which behaviours to promote. A similar switch in thinking must be made for other areas of the 25YEP and associated indicators too, such as for air quality, soil health, and resource efficiency and waste.

Looking into the detail of the headline indicators, we assessed the likelihood that net-gains can be picked up. The overall picture is mixed:

  • Indicators on wildlife, nature on land and water, health and diversity of seas and people enjoying and caring for nature are most likely to measure positive behaviours while they can also pick up negative trends if they occur.
  • Indicators such as for quality and quantity of water, exposure to harmful chemicals, and production and harvesting of natural resources appear to primarily measure reductions in negative impacts but technically could also pick up positive behaviours, the likelihood of which may depend on the framing of the associated goal and context in the 25YEP.
  • Indicators such as air quality, impacts of exotic pests, resource efficiency and waste, and greenhouse gas emissions from the natural environment appear completely focused on reducing negative impacts, without opportunity to measure behaviours that may be truly positive.

Ensuring that all areas of the 25YEP include indicators that can measure net-environmental improvements is a considerable challenge. Here we provide initial ideas for the development of indicators that are particularly relevant to the development of a sustainable circular economy, core focus to the Resource Recovery from Waste programme:

  1. Raw materials consumption (indicator ID H32) is proposed to be expressed as raw material consumption per GVA (Gross Value Added), i.e. a decrease in this indicator would demonstrate an improvement. We suggest to turn this around and measure GVA per unit of raw material consumed, in which an increase in the indicator signifies a positive effect. This would be more intuitively aligned with two further indicators that should be included. First, raw material consumption should also be measured as the proportion of total material consumption, this is important in comparison to recycled materials processed into new products (covered in point 2 below). Second, we suggest to measure sustainably sourced raw materials as a proportion of raw materials consumption. This will help ensuring that the raw materials that do have to be sourced are at least taken in the most sustainable manner possible. Finally, all these indicators can show improvement when materials consumption is still increasing, while an overall decrease of material consumption would render the most positive effect on the environment. This has to be controlled with another metric, and for this we propose to expand metrics on greenhouse gas emissions (point 4).
  2. Residual waste arising by type and sector (H34) focuses on reducing residual waste and impacts thereof, but it is not about developing a positive relation to our environment via our resource use. We should also keep track of the amounts of materials that are actually recycled into new products, expressed by additional indicators a) Measuring GVA per unit of material recycled into new products, and b) Recycled material use in products as a proportion of total material consumption – enabling direct comparison to raw material consumption indicators. Finally, for the promotion of a sustainable circular economy and increased resource productivity it is crucial to include additional indicators that keep track of material and product design, intensity of resource use (e.g. benefiting from shared consumption), reuse, repair, and remanufacturing.
  3. Hazardous chemicals preventing recycling (H33) is aiming to measure the reduction of hazardous chemicals i.e. a reduction in a negative behaviour, but the resulting behaviour of increased potential for recycling is a positive one. This indicator should be linked closely to headline “Exposure to harmful chemicals” and include the measurement of positive design choices for chemicals that could be returned safely to the natural environment at their end-of-use.
  4. Greenhouse gas emissions from the natural environment (H36) should focus on measuring anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions of the full production-consumption system, from primary production to manufacturing, consumption and waste management. Increased resource efficiency is one of the largest opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and this point should be integrated more into both the 25YEP and its indicator framework, such as in the form of measuring greenhouse gas reductions resulting from adopting sustainable circular economy practices such as outlined in point 2 and 3 above.

The indicator framework is part of a series of publications such as the 25YEP, the Resources and Waste strategy and the Clean Growth plan, that grow momentum for environmental improvements and positively instilling the creation of economic and environmental win-wins as the new normal. The indicator framework is planned to be continuously improved via a process of regular reviews. This offers the opportunity to update the indicators to match the overriding ambition and pick up on net-environmental improvements for all goals of the 25YEP and the key areas covered by the Environment Bill including air, wildlife, water, and waste including, in our view, resources too.

The Resource Recovery from Waste programme is a NERC, ESRC and Defra funded research partnership engaging academia, government, industry and the general public to deliver the environmental science needed to support a radical change in waste and resource management. This consultation response was based on evidence accumulated within the programme and was written by Dr Anne Velenturf (former programme lead and impact fellow) and Prof Phil Purnell (programme convener) at the University of Leeds.

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A strategy for valuing resources: incorporating environmental, social and economic value

Joint policy event by All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group and Resource Recovery from Waste programme, 28 November, Houses of Parliament, London

As the release of Defra’s ‘Resources and Waste’ strategy draws ever closer, MPs, policy makers, academics and industry gathered in the House of Commons for a stimulating discussion around how the social and environmental values associated with such strategies can be incorporated into government decision-making.

Geraint Davies MP

Dr Alan Whitehead MP opened the session, providing a warm welcome to the group and reinforcing the importance of resource recovery and waste management in working towards the ambition of ‘net zero environmental impact’. Geraint Davies MP reiterated the importance of government intervention on issues where there are clear environmental and social benefits for doing so, in particular consumers need information to make choices, whether this is regarding health, social or environmental aspects.

Nick Molho (The Aldersgate Group) highlighted that business and industry are heavily reliant on the goods and services provided by the natural environment. Resource efficiency makes sense from an environmental perspective, but also for improving the long-term resilience of a business.  Resource efficiency is a key area of policy cutting across a number of government strategies, however action in this area has been slow in part due to its relevance to multiple government departments.

Professor Phil Purnell (University of Leeds and convenor of the Resource Recovery from Waste programme) provided a compelling case for a circular economy and resource recovery in terms of financial, environmental, resource security and societal values. However, whilst the business case is straightforward in general, multi-dimensional value can be difficult to articulate within the framework set out and implemented by government because governmental decision-making is still strongly biased towards financial costs and benefits.

Professor Andrew Brown (University of Leeds) discussed that recent updates to government assessment guidelines for infrastructure in HM Treasury’s Green Book begin to embed principles of whole systems thinking. These guidelines recognise the multiple dimensions of value and look to identify the interdependencies between infrastructure systems. Whilst short-term financial value is easier to measure, the principle of valuing long-term interdependencies demands that long-term social and environmental, as well as economic, impacts are fully accounted for.

Chair Alan Whitehead MP with panellists (left to right) Eleni Iacovidou, Ben Bowles, Tom Murray, Helen Dunn and Patrick Allcorn.

In the panel discussion which followed, the speakers were joined by panellists with experience of working in policy and decision making across Defra, BEIS and Treasury. Given that the eagerly awaited ‘Resources and Waste Strategy’ is due imminently, it was unsurprising the first question was around the strategy. Tom Murray (Defra) was unable to comment about the detail around the content for the strategy, however he felt that Defra has worked closely with stakeholders and academics over the past year and he was confident these views are reflected in the strategy, including those around metrics for valuing resources differently.

The conversation turned to approaches that were being used to incorporate environmental and social value into decision-making. Helen Dunn (Simetrica) discussed the natural capital approach which describes environmental value in terms of monetary equivalents. Whilst revised Treasury guidance (published this year) provides a consistent framework for this, the challenge is in the implementation and in ensuring the social and wellbeing aspects are also incorporated into business cases.

Eleni Iacovidou (Brunel University) highlighted that CVORR, developed as part of the RRfW programme, offers a transparent approach from describing the RRfW system to formulating circular economy scenarios, identifying and selecting metrics and carrying out multi-dimensional value assessments. This approach assesses economic, social, technical and environmental aspects by their inherent value rather than converting all into financial terms, instead using both quantitative and qualitative methods. There was agreement in the room that the way forward is likely to be a solution containing aspects from both the natural capital approach and a decision-making framework such as CVORR. This was re-iterated by Nick Molho who felt that both quantitative and qualitative approaches were needed, with monetisation being useful in terms of supporting decision making particularly around climate change and health where savings from interventions are clear.

Patrick Allcorn, BEIS, takes the mic for questions

Patrick Allcorn (BEIS) highlighted that there is challenge with values that are difficult to monetise. These are often not identified by individual government departments who tend to examine an issue from a narrow departmental viewpoint. For example, energy infrastructure does not always have a clear cost-benefit from investments, with complexity magnified by the fact that benefits from energy infrastructure radiate across a number of different aspects of governance including environment, health and society.

Ben Bowles (London School of Economics) emphasised that incorporating multi-dimensional value into decision-making is not purely about what metrics to use but also about how the assessment is embedded in government and the skills of government officers using it. “How much do we know about spending teams and the people using the Green Book to make decisions, and what about all the other nodes through which decisions around investments are made in governance?” Ben asked. There is a need to make these places more democratic so that the decision process can be better understood and evaluated.

To conclude Phil Purnell underlined the point that sometimes we are going to have to monetise but we need to open our minds to the idea that there is a world beyond cost-benefit. If we want to realise the multi-dimensional benefits of a circular economy, and a low carbon future, we are going to have to become comfortable with using qualitative methods in personal, commercial and policy decision making.

Please also see PolicyConnect’s review of the event at: A system of systems approach: a crucial factor in the shift towards a Circular Economy

We’d like to thank the Chair, speakers, panellists and all those attending for making this a informative and productive evening. Similarly, thanks to Rachel Marshall (RRfW policy impact fellow) all her work pulling the event together and the write up. Thanks also to PolicyConnect for their collaboration co-hosting.

Nick Molho, Aldersgate Group
Prof Phil Purnell, University of Leeds
Prof Andrew Brown, University of Leeds
Tom Murray, Defra, gets the first question
A conducive setting for an interesting debate
Taking questions from the floor
Cinnamon colored black bear standing on hind legs waving (Shutterstock)

The Resource Recovery from Waste road trip

The day is 9 May 2016. The place is the University of Leeds. I am starting a job managing the sizeable Resource Recovery from Waste programme. As a relative rookie to academia, I am amazed at the opportunity; I am full of ideas, excited to get started and jump right in. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Resource Recovery from Waste created an amazing diversity of research projects. It brings together mavericks sitting at the edges of various research council remits. Network theory claims that ideas persist at the heart of a network; change is driven from the fringes. Uniting voices from far corners into a harmonious concert that can reach a wider audience is not an easy task though.

Our programme has a brilliant, lovely, yet rebellious coordination team bringing together the PIs and coordinators of our six main projects. We organise a ‘jam’ and the band start to patch together a shared vision and mission. And while Phil drums the Resource Recovery from Waste mantra, I set up the rest of the stage. First a decorum of ecosystem stewardship, planetary boundaries and human rights. Then the voices, a cacophony of metal recovery, organic wastes, wastewaters, land remediation and catalysts made from recovered materials topped with a complex story about multi-dimensional values. We write and rewrite our first song at least four times, but at last it gets launched and includes our engagement strategy to involve existing and new partners in governmental bodies and companies to deliver change.

In the meantime I am on a continuous promotional road trip, meeting our audience far and wide. A memorable first annual conference bringing together the full band and our audience. Then our first policy gig playing our song to those in power. A series of seemingly endless meetings, conferences, presentations, workshops and network gatherings goes on and on… I develop an intricate knowledge of the British rail system, taking in the weekly ‘Top Ten’ of cancellation excuses; find standard hangout spots in every corner of the country; and the side effects of generous catering policies settle on my waistline – after all, food waste cannot be accepted under any circumstances!

Through all the conversations a clear picture of the circular economy aspirations within our network emerges. I am humbled and grateful for the collaborations with and within Resource Recovery from Waste. Somewhere in this work-jumble, a series of cross-programme mini-projects come to fruition and spur on our momentum to deliver change. The funders notice our impact and the Resource Recovery from Waste concert is signed to perform an encore performance.

We professionalise our communications. We redraw our objectives. The pathways to achieve our outcomes become clearer. And while our projects start to wind down, the coordination team grows with Juliet doing magic with our digital looks and events, and Rachel joining later as a policy impact fellow – she knows how to strike a chord with our policy contacts! Researchers from across our projects are collaborating freely and without needing a programme coordinator chasing them anymore; Ana, Alfonso and Lynne our champion conductors here.

A colourful, weird and wonderful Resource Recovery from Waste family has grown. The impact machine hums in top gear and I start to feel sleepy. I open a window to let in a breeze of fresh air and it whispers about a new gig in Penryn. I decide to take a look. I like it – a lot. Helping companies to make their business models more circular and in tune with the environment. I am sad to leave Resource Recovery from Waste but, let’s face it, my job is done. I accept the position as industrial impact fellow on the Environmental Growth for Business project at the University of Exeter and move by 9 July. I leave the programme coordination and impact delivery in the safe hands of Juliet, Rachel and band leader, Phil.

Thank you for all your support, ideas, collaboration and hard work. It has been an amazing, mad and at times hilarious roller coaster of a couple of years and I am grateful that you let me write and play the Resource Recovery from Waste messages with you! Keep up the good work, build toward that crescendo and your finale. I am sure you will recognise the groupie with the pocket full of used rail tickets and the bag of doughnuts in the front row!

Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport forum: British infrastructure not ready for circular economy

The Resource Recovery from Waste programme has a vision of a high value circular economy that delivers clean growth, a better environment and social benefits such as skills and jobs. We work closely with our partners in government and business to turn this vision into action.

A high value circular economy should retain the economic, environmental and social value of materials by preserving their technical qualities rather than losing them in combustion. To achieve this, we need to have the right infrastructure in place. The Resource Recovery from Waste review of existing and planned waste and recovery infrastructure in the UK found that it is certainly not ready to support the circular economy, and neither is it likely to be without radical government intervention.

At the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport forum “Priorities for UK waste and recycling policy and developing the circular economy” on 18 January 2018, Lee Davies (Defra) argued that better data is needed to underpin a circular, resource efficient network; however, Andy Rees (Welsh Government) described how collection of such data remains a challenge. Better data on the flows, volumes and qualities of recycled materials is needed to support secondary resource markets. This will reduce risk and enable confident investment in infrastructure. It also enables risk sharing throughout the supply chain. This is crucial because as Marcus Gover (WRAP) explained, we need to consider production, consumption and recycling holistically. Promoting circular supply chains requires data on material flows in production and consumption, as well as downstream processing. It also means adopting new metrics that describe the technical qualities of material flows, not just their tonnage.

Policy and regulation in support of resource productivity are expected to change, as highlighted by Ian Boyd (Defra) and Libby Peake (Green Alliance) at the recent Resource Recovery from Waste conference. The development of coherent government initiatives such as the Industrial Strategy, Clean Growth Plan, 25 Year Environment Plan, and forthcoming Resource and Waste Strategy helps clarify the direction of travel, as expressed at the forum by Nadeem Arshad (Bevan Brittan). The repeated ambition for a circular, low-carbon economy expressed in these is positive. Now the Government needs to translate the plans into actions. It must provide detail in the National Infrastructure Plan of how the necessary reuse, recycling and recovery infrastructure to support a circular economy will be put in place. This is particularly important for the critical materials required by the technology that will enable a low-carbon economy, of which we are 100% importers. While future innovation will be needed, as Lee Davies stated in his response to this note, immediate action should be taken to balance investment into circular economy infrastructure. Currently, 80% of funded waste infrastructure projects are for energy recovery; part of the budget must be redirected towards infrastructure that supports e.g. repair, remanufacturing, recycling and recovery.

Resource Recovery from Waste has been awarded with a NERC Policy Impact grant to increase collaboration with government. Read more about this new project in our latest newsletter, and get in touch for further details and explore how we can work together.

Representation of a Circular Economy

Solving the paradox of resource scarcity and waste overload

The world is currently suffering from the double whammy of limited resources being over exploited, whilst at the same time an estimated 22 billion tonnes of waste is generated every year – roughly 4 tonnes per person.  This paradox could in part be solved by moving to a circular economy, where resources are recovered and reused instead of being disposed of as waste. However, movement in this direction has been slow. In a new open-access article recently published in the Sustainability journal, RRfW Coordinator Anne Velenturf and leading academic Phil Purnell from the University of Leeds set out how the Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) programme is addressing this problem. They argue that academia is well placed to contribute to the advances in science, technology and economic models needed for a truly circular economy. However, in order for research to effectively contribute to the required paradigm shift it must first engage with interested groups at all levels through a process of participatory action research.

Waste and resource management will be key to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Out of 17 goals, 12 directly contain targets to improve waste and resource managements. The various targets proposed will require far-reaching changes for both industry and society. However, these changes will be necessary in order to stay within the planetary boundaries. The paper identifies nine planetary boundaries, which give the ‘safe operating space’ for humanity. Of these, four boundaries have already been crossed – for climate change, excess crop fertilisers, loss of biodiversity and land use. The ways in which resources are extracted, produced, used and wasted are all contributing to the rate at which we are crossing these planetary boundaries. Transforming waste and resource management must play a key part in changing these self-destructive pathways.

The current way of thinking about waste and resource flows is linear, with resources being extracted or grown, processed into products, consumed and then wasted. In contrast, the UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme defines a circular economy approach as one that would:

“keep resources in use as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life”

Moving to a circular economy would have multiple benefits, for example, reducing demand for extracting new resources would also reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. But to increase circularity, the focus needs to move from just ‘end-of-pipe’ treatments to include changes at the product design and manufacturing stages. Products must be brought to market that are more amenable to being reused, dismantled and / or recycled. In addition, all stages of the supply chains need to be redesigned to prevent the technical, environmental, social and economic value of materials from leaking into waste at any point of the product life cycle. In order to deliver such a shift in thinking, we need to engage people at all levels from designers, manufacturers, consumers, waste processers to politicians, regulators and NGOs who can support markets and drive changes in behaviour.

One approach to engage multiple groups of people at across multiple areas is to use participatory governance. This involves an engagement process that can range from informing, to listening, consulting, co-producing, co-deciding and full autonomy. There are many advantages to this approach, including bringing a diversity of viewpoints and expertise to identify and solve particular problems, and generating greater commitment and impact. The academic community can adapt these techniques through participatory action research, with the aim of both bringing about societal change and contributing to scientific progress. This approach has been adopted on the RRfW programme and the paper outlines our strategy for this. By engaging with people and organisations from across the resource and waste area, we have been able to get our research to where it is needed and, in the process, identify and tackle new needs. As this approach runs through the core of the programme, it is still on-going. This autumn will see a further four participatory knowledge exchange workshops and our annual meeting for 2017 will open the debate as to how we can make the business case for resource recovery.

The full paper on which this article is based can be found here:

Anne Velenturf and Phil Purnell (2017) “Resource Recovery from Waste: Restoring the Balance between Resource Scarcity and Waste Overload” Sustainability 9 (9), 1603; doi:10.3390/su9091603 Open Access.

Circular Economy Driving International Sustainable Development Research

By Anne Velenturf, Pauline Deutz and Andrea Cecchin

The International Sustainable Development Research Society (ISDRS) held a very successful annual conference last week in Bogotá, Colombia. With over 200 presentations from every corner of the world and 9 key notes plus a welcome by the President of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Juan Manuel Santos, the conference reflected the diversity and crucial role of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for environmental health, peace keeping and the circular economy.

The circular economy continues to be a popular topic for ISDRS. A special track on Circular Economy, Industrial Ecology (resource management and sustainable regional economic development) included 12 presentations on this subject. Additionally, other sessions contained 5 presentations on circular economy while there were a further 15 talks on waste and resource management and/or sustainable production and consumption.

The fact that the circular economy and sustainable waste and resource management resonated throughout the ISDRS conference should not be a surprise. Analysis of the UN SDGs show that 12 of the 17 goals contain targets to improve waste and resource management directly, excluding targets on for example education, policy and finance which can indirectly enhance sustainable waste and resource management. The global goals on affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation, and life below water and on land contain the highest proportions of targets aiming to alter waste and resource flows in our economy. Overall the UN SDGs propose far-reaching changes for industry.

Image source: Anne Velenturf et al. (2017) Co-producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners. Presentation at ISDRS 14-16 June Bogotá, Colombia.

This emphasises the importance of circular economy and industrial ecology for sustainable development. Presentations at the ISDRS conference indicated, however, that circularity cannot be a dogma because it might not be the best strategy for achieving resource efficiency or sustainability at all times. Instead, we need to consider circular economy in the broader perspective of sustainable development.

Circular economy presentations at the ISDRS included both developing and developed country perspectives. In both cases the construction industry is an area of concern, given the scale of waste produced, but especially noting the continuing rate of urbanisation in developing countries such as Colombia. Additionally, in the context of developing countries the informal economy tends to play a significant role (both in waste management and construction).

Other talks indicated that there is a need to develop approaches fostering circular practices, such as industrial symbiosis, which reach beyond large companies. Context needs to be considered in industrial symbiosis evolution, with different pathways illustrated for urban and rural settings. Pathways are also likely to differ in developed and developing countries due to different socioeconomic and political conditions.

Such differences highlight the need for a flexible framework and specific implementation strategies for developed and developing countries. A common framework for circular economy does not exist yet, not least since various current frameworks propose different visions of sustainability. These differences are also reflected in the confusing range of terms used in circular economy discourse, as precise terminology is yet to be established.

Image source: Denise Reike, Walter Vermeulen and Sjors Witjes (2017) The circular economy: New or Refurbished as CE 3.0? – Exploring Controversies in the Conceptualisation of the Circular Economy through a Focus on History and Resource Retention Options. Presentation at ISDRS 14-16 June Bogotá, Colombia.

Engagement with policy makers is also important to steer both the design and implementation of regulations, as was illustrated by case studies from tyre recycling and mining of legacy waste. A further presentation emphasised policy makers can be receptive to academic engagement, with an on-going two-way process of exchange the ideal way to manage this.

A lively discussion after the talks summarised suggestions for further circular economy and industrial ecology research:

  • Social aspects related to circular economy
  • Circular business models and business model innovation
  • The role of participatory approaches as an essential part of implementing circular economies
  • The socio-political implications and possibilities of shifting current production-consumption-use-waste practices
  • The role of economic cycles in the adoption of a circular economy framework in national economies and industries
  • Further research the role of geographic proximity in the establishment of industrial symbiosis
  • Investigate the influence of geographical context on resource exchange networks
  • Investigate the role and contribution of private brokers and governmental facilitators to foster industrial symbiosis
  • Research to integrate urban symbiosis with industrial symbiosis
  • Investigate the adoption of circular economy models for the construction sector, especially in developing countries with higher population growth in urban areas
  • The role and contribution of the informal economy when designing and implementing a circular economy framework in developing countries
  • The role of formal and informal institutions (for example regulation and the presence of collaborative culture respectively), also in relation to the implementation of law enforcement
  • Adoption of circular practices by SMEs

We look forward to contributions to continue the debate at next year’s ISDRS conference, which will be hosted by the University of Messina, Italy, 13-15 June 2018.

Anne Velenturf is the coordinator of the Resource Recovery from Waste programme at the University of Leeds and managing director of 4Innovation Research and Consultancy. Pauline Deutz is a Reader at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Hull and vice president of the International Sustainable Development Research Society. Andrea Cecchin is a Fellow at the Archives of Sustainability at Ca’Foscari University of Venice and Project Researcher at Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 22nd June 2017

Towards a shared vision for waste and resource management (2): Policy and regulatory approaches

The Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) programme coordinates a co-creation process for a shared vision and approach for sustainable waste and resource management in the UK.

Last week we introduced the co-creation methods and results on effective collaboration between government and academic partners. This week we discuss preliminary results on policy and regulatory approaches in support of the transition towards more sustainable waste and resource management. How can government support a move away from end-of-pipe approaches and maximise the value created from resources whilst keeping them in the economy for as long as possible?

We are looking for further input from governmental partners and other interested stakeholders. Are the presented approaches sufficient to support the transition process? Are any policy and regulatory approaches missing? Do you have a preference for any of the presented approaches? Please leave a comment or contact us directly.

Policy recommendations

Policy efforts should focus on eradicating waste. Engagement of government partners has highlighted five focal areas for policy development so far:

  • Longer-term policies that are stable and predictable, enabling investment and business model innovation.
  • Focus policies on resources and resource efficiency rather than waste and waste reduction.
  • Build on the EU Circular Economy Strategy to maintain integrity with EU resource, waste and circular economy policies.
  • Prioritise reduction of single use and superfluous products/packaging as well as the use of hazardous materials in products when it poses barriers to recycling.
  • Develop waste infrastructure in support of decarbonisation agenda.
    Regulatory approaches

Turning to regulatory approaches, a combination of incentives and regulations were suggested to focus efforts on the higher levels of the waste hierarchy.

The overriding idea is that each level of the waste hierarchy needs its own mix of incentives and regulations, with more ‘carrot’ or ‘save as you recycle’ approaches towards the higher levels and more use of regulatory ‘sticks’ or taxation to prevent resources moving down the hierarchy (see figure above).

Regulatory instruments

Six groups of regulatory instruments were discussed:

  1. Taxation and tax breaks, for example to support reuse and repair, and to internalise elements of resource value that are currently largely externalised from the costs of materials, components and products, such as the environmental impacts of extracting natural resources or the end-of-life impacts when products become waste.
  2. Reporting to identify and understand resource flows, especially at higher levels of the waste hierarchy such as reuse. Reporting could be incentivised by tax breaks.
  3. Extended producer and consumer responsibility – Extended producer responsibility (EPR) could target specific waste/ resource streams, supporting schemes to make polluters pay and motivate designing wastes out of the system. EPR should be combined with more consumer responsibility, to improve the quality of waste resources feeding into the waste and reprocessing industry.
  4. Product bans or product standards – Product bans would be a strong instrument to intervene. However, such bans may be contentious and the alternative would be products standards and inclusion of environmental and social externalities in economic value.
  5. Mandatory recycling regimes – In support of extended producer and consumer responsibility, markets could be further directed by mandating recycling regimes. Such mandates would improve the quality of recycled resources, essential to realising the circular economy.
  6. Waste Prevention Act – Waste and resource management can play an important role in carbon reductions. Especially waste prevention could contribute to such extent that it should not be just voluntary and, instead, should be embedded in a Waste Prevention Act.
Regulatory instruments reviewed.

Reconsidering existing policies and regulations

When introducing the regulatory approaches above, reconsideration of the existing policy and regulatory framework is also necessary:

  • Adjust regulation to support the closing of resource loops. The regulatory system should become less centred on waste and focus more on valuing resources.
  • Realign support for competing incentivised supply chains, to ward off perverse incentives that for example prioritise energy recovery over waste prevention.
  • Focus regulatory efforts more on those who can actually (pay for) change in waste and resource management. For example, local councils carry responsibility for recycling but austerity measures cause difficulty to achieve obligations.

Finally, education and support play an important role in enabling change in waste and resource management practices. For example, the LGA is well positioned to provide information to local councils about circular economy and best practice, supporting them in realising waste infrastructure and cultural change. Moreover, government actors in power to lead on waste and resource management, as well as businesses, would benefit from understanding the circular economy and the opportunities it offers. Academia should play a key role in providing consistent, credible and impartial education materials on all areas of waste and resource management.

We value your feedback!

The preliminary results introduced above will be included in a publication, which will be finalised from the middle of February. Please share your views before 17. February 2017 to be included in the article.

NB Should you wish to use the presented results above, please reference as: Anne P.M. Velenturf et al. (Forthcoming) Co-producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 3rd February 2017.

Building an Industrial Strategy for a Stronger Waste and Resource Management Sector

The Government launched its green paper ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’ and invited participation in the on-going consultation. The green paper sets out a positive vision for Britain with a strong focus on economic growth. Prime Minister Theresa May states that “Through this new approach we will move beyond short-term thinking to focus on the big decisions that will deliver long-term, sustainable success – and we will seize the opportunities of Brexit to build a brighter future for all.” Such opportunities may involve radical changes in our economy, as indicated by Secretary of State for BEIS Greg Clark “A modern British industrial strategy must make this country a fertile ground for new businesses and new industries which will challenge and in some cases displace the companies and industries of today.” Resource Recovery from Waste reflects upon the opportunities for waste and resource management as the backbone of a healthy, resilient economy bringing well-being for everyone.

The issues around increasing resource scarcity, waste and pollution are well-known and recognised by relevant actors in government and industry who can deliver change. What is perhaps less well-known is the sustained growth of the waste management industry in the UK. Green Alliance and WRAP’s report Employment and the circular economy: job creation in a more resource efficient Britain noted that sales in the waste and recycling sector had tripled between 2000 and 2010 to more than £19bn. Defra’s report Resource management: a catalyst for growth and productivity estimated that the core waste sector had a value of £6.8bn GVA supporting 103,000 jobs in 2013, and this number could be roughly 6 times higher when including economic activities to repair and reuse products, material and components.

Consistent growth opportunities are reported for the waste and resource management sector at the forefront of the circular economy, see for example publications by ESA and CIWM et al. However, the British government should do more to support investment in the waste management industry. “Brexit” has created an uneasy mix of potential opportunities and problems in this regard – as discussed at the Brexit policy series Redesigning Waste and Resource Policy outside the EU. On the one hand, free from state aid rules the UK government could become leaders in green procurement. By prioritising the purchase of British recycled, recovered or reused products, it could help stimulate the secure supply and value chains required for the circular economy as well as providing the basis for development of the underlying infrastructure and jobs. On the other hand, uncertainty regarding the continued adherence or otherwise to the extensive suite of EU legislation surrounding waste management and recycling will stifle investment in the sector; the Government should prioritise creating a predictable UK policy framework that will reduce the risk of investing in waste infrastructure. Establishing a Resource Directorate, that refocuses the waste management sector on recovering valuable materials to protect UK supply chains, rather than regulating the sector via environmental agencies, would be a key first step towards addressing both issues. Its’ top priority would be to consolidate and standardise data collection in the sector in order to properly track material flows from cradle to ‘grave’, to give confidence to investors, operators, manufacturers and materials suppliers alike that the materials loops can be closed profitably, and that resources of sufficient quantity and quality will be available.

Such government actions needs to be accompanied by a step-change in industrial practice. The waste industry is moving forward to become the custodians of resources rather than the collectors of rubbish. At the recent Westminster Energy, Environment Transport Forum on The future for waste and recycling policy in the UK, Herman van der Meij from Viridor made it clear that the waste management industry wants to work with designers and manufacturers of products, materials and components to include end-of-life options with economic, environmental and social benefits. Such progress needs to come from both sides though, and design and manufacturing industries could do more to proactively collaborate with waste managers as part of their extended producer responsibility. Connecting waste management to relevant sectors such as manufacturing offers a key intervention point where the government could support the transition towards the circular economy, whilst also strengthening resource security for the long-term. Once again, the standardisation of data collection for material use, wastage and recycling would remove the most pernicious barrier to achieving this.

Despite the waste industry’s growth record and evident opportunities to play a key role in a sustainable circular economy in the UK, its presence in the green paper is rather minimal. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to read that “The Government will work with stakeholders to explore opportunities to reduce raw material demand and waste in our energy and resource systems, and to promote well-functioning markets for secondary materials, and new disruptive business models that challenge inefficient practice.” Resource Recovery from Waste brings together such expertise and we look forward to translate our knowledge into tangible recommendations for the industrial strategy.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 24th January 2017.

Towards a shared vision for waste and resource management (1): Effective government – academic collaboration

The Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) programme coordinates a co-creation process to formulate a shared vision and approach to realise it for sustainable waste and resource management in the UK. In this way we contribute to the necessary transition towards a circular economy that is mindful of environmental and social boundaries.

This blog is the first of a series of three posts presenting preliminary results from our government engagement, inviting your further insights to take on board before publishing the final outcomes.

Overview RRfW co-creation process

The co-creation process consists of four steps (please see figure on the right). The first step has been completed. To gather insights from government, we interviewed RRfW partners in Defra, Zero Waste Scotland, BEIS, EA, and SEPA prior to a round table discussion with all participants. Conversations revolved around four questions:

  1. For which organisation(s) are you working & what is your role in waste and resource management?
  2. What would the resource and waste management landscape ideally look like by 2020, 2030 and 2050?
  3. If we would like waste management to be driven by environmental and social benefits in addition to economic benefits, what would be the key policy and regulatory approaches?
  4. How could RRfW best engage governmental organisations to translate knowledge into practice?

 

Results from government engagement will be submitted for publication in spring. Before finalising the article, we would like to invite further insights from government. In the next weeks we will present preliminary results in this blogpost series; We would appreciate if you could have a read and please let us know if we missed anything important. This week we discuss how RRfW could best engage governmental organisations to translate our technologies and approaches into practice.

Effective collaboration between government and academia

In what ways could RRfW academics best collaborate with government partners? Preliminary results covered recommendations from governmental partners for academics on potential engagement methods, organisations, government processes, and positioning and generation of research outcomes.

In what ways should academics engage government partners?

  • Engage governmental organisation from the start and follow-up regularly throughout the research project.
  • Communicate with partners at multiple government levels, which is crucial in the transition towards more sustainable waste and resource management. Radical changes are needed at all levels of government, and throughout society, hence to bring about such systemic change “taking everyone with us” is important.

Who should participate in academic research on resource recovery from waste?

  • Politicians such as MPs
  • Technical officers and policy makers in DEFRA, BEIS, Treasury and DCLG
  • Parliamentary groups and committees such as APSRG and the Environmental Audit Committee

Through which processes should academics engage government partners?

Aside from regular meetings with key contacts in the organisations mentioned above, academics can engage through the following processes:

  • Contribute to consultations such as for the industrial strategy, bioeconomy strategy and approaches to support the circular economy
  • Become member of relevant parliamentary groups and committees
  • Contribute to standards such as BREFs and the recycling protocol for demolition and construction waste
  • Make results more accessible through POST notes, the Raw Materials Information System, and existing or newly launched online databases for waste and resource management
  • Organise events in Westminster to engage politicians and other government actors

How should research outcomes be best positioned for government uptake?

Two, interlinked, approaches to position research outcomes were brought forward:

  1. Academia can play a key role in maintaining the bigger picture of whole systems. However, targeted interventions are required and academia should formulate practical recommendations for specific sectors or materials. In other words, academics should present whole system approaches but with more practical recommendations.
  2. Another key approach in presenting research outcomes revolves around integration. Building on the observation above that actors throughout society need to change, at all levels of government as well as industry and general public; academic work should integrate the diverse stakeholder perspectives, including:
  • Practical advice to support an integrated cross-government approach for waste and resource management
  • Integrate strategies for the circular economy with the wider agenda for economic development and protection of the environment
  • Recommend new metrics to integrate into economic development models, for example circular economy metrics or sets of metrics that include environmental and social indicators of progress in addition to economic metrics.
  • Join up the elements of the circular economy. While government interventions tend to focus on sectors and materials, academia should clarify how resources can circulate through the economy through interconnected sectors. In other words, academics should identify where joined up interventions for two or more sectors are necessary to support the emerging circular economy.

Which research activities should RRfW prioritise to support collaboration with government?

  • Identify policies and regulations linked to each RRfW research project
  • Carry out a situational analysis to understand if, and in what way, new approaches and technologies could be realised within the policy and regulatory context
  • Connect solutions and recommendations explicitly to policies and regulations in a specific region

We value your feedback!

Did we miss anything important in the outlined preliminary results? Are there any other and/or better ways for academics to collaborate effectively with government partners in this subject area? Please leave a comment or contact us.

We will finalise and submit the results for publication from the middle of February. Please share your views before 17. February 2017 to be included in the article – we will acknowledge all relevant contributions.

NB Should you wish to use the presented results above, please reference as: Anne P.M. Velenturf et al. (Forthcoming) Co-producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 23rd January 2017.