Resource Recovery from Waste Conference 2019

Resource Recovery for a Clean, Low-Carbon and Resource Efficient Economy

16th January 2019, One Great George Street, London

Conference overviewprogramme and presentations and conference gallery.

Conference Overview

The final Resource Recovery from Waste conference brought together five years of research to highlight the relevance of resource recovery for a clean, low-carbon and resource efficient economy.

The meeting was opened by Beth House, NERC, who introduced the thinking behind the RRfW programme, aiming for a “paradigm shift” to progress the transition to a circular economy by moving away from a purely economic focus, to include generating environmental and social value.

Laura Sandys, Challenging Ideas

Keynote speaker, Laura Sandys, Challenging Ideas, set out how waste is part of the wider agenda of resource productivity, arguing we need to change the way which resources are “valued and re-valued”. She stressed the need to work collectively to “show, not tell” policy makers what needs to be done, suggesting actions for actors across government, local authorities, industry and academia.

Next a series of talks showcased the advances made by the RRfW projects: Ian Head, Newcastle University described MeteoRR work developing bioelectrochemical systems for copper recovery and carbon capture from malt whiskey distillery wastestreams. Lynne Macaskie, University of Birmingham highlighted B3 work on bio-recovery of base and platinum group metals, where excess or ‘wastes’ from one process became inputs for the next. Ian Burke, University of Leeds noted alkaline residues can offer opportunities in spite of being “challenging substrates”, discussing R3AW work on recovering vanadium and assessing the carbon capture potential of steel slag. Devin Sapsford, Cardiff University described how the INSPIRE project has developed low-energy methods for in situ resource recovery and introduced the idea of ‘precision mining’. The AVAnD project showed there are environmental benefits to using anaerobic digestate and biomass ash compared to synthetic fertilisers, but Alfonso Lag Broton, Lancaster University noted current end-of-waste regulation need updating to make adoption viable. Phil Purnell, University of Leeds, described the multidimensional CVORR sustainability assessment framework, highlighting its ability to pick out counterintuitive outcomes missed by other methods, giving examples in plastics and steel industries.

Peter Quinn, Tata Steel Europe

Bringing an industry perspective to the conference, Peter Quinn, Tata Steel Europe, said that the steel sector has worked hard to find circular solutions for their by-products and waste residues, but that barriers to increasing resource efficiency included policy and the recyclability of exotic alloys. Following on Mark Sommerfeld, REA, noted we are in a good place with the Industrial, Bioeconomy and Resources and Waste strategies, but few policies are in place to support their deliverance. Now is the time to talk across governmental departments and produce interdisciplinary ideas of what the sector can deliver so we “build ourselves into innovative strategies”.

Continuing the policy theme, Phil Purnell highlighted that there are multiple “circular economies” possible. He argued for a new regulator, the Office for Resource Security, to ensure a whole systems approach to resources, and to make sure the touted circular economy benefits arise in practice. Tom Murray, Defra, followed to talk about the recently released Resources and Waste Strategy, highlighting where resource recovery featured and future areas of interest for research.

Chaired by Libby Peake, Green Alliance a panel discussed future research and innovation challenges for resource recovery. Adam Read, SUEZ, emphasised the need for eco-design, clarity regarding end-markets for waste, and a better understanding of how to make sharing models work. Andy Rees, Welsh Government, highlighted that the “waste [industry] is very chaotic” and we need to adopt systems approach going forward. Jim Wharfe, environmental consultant, noted the progress in the discussions since RRfW began and urged the research community to continue the momentum. Jacqui Murray, Innovate UK, said developing recyclable and sustainable battery technologies is a cross cutting problem, and she would like to see the EU take the ecolabeling and eco-design directive forward a lot quicker. The debate moved on to the potential for the use of digital technologies such as blockchain, and the importance of understanding people’s behaviour. Libby closed the discussion with reference to the relevant Green Alliance report ‘By popular demand: what people want from a resource efficient economy’.

The conference ended with a keynote from Ned Garnett, NERC, who said the RRfW programme has gone exceptionally well and had been very timely. Defra’s engagement with the programme has been critical, and there had been significant engagement with industry and the public. Funding for research and innovation has remained high, but the landscape has changed with the formation of UKRI. Future funding commitments regarding the circular economy and redesigning packaging and plastics are in progress.

Thank you to our conference scribes Sophie Archer (University of Birmingham), Spyridoula Gerasimidou (University of Leeds) and Stijn Van Ewijk (UCL) for the notes on which this overview is based.

Conference Programme and Presentations:

The conference programme, including talk summaries and speaker biographies, is provided here: RRfW Conference 2019 programme. Presentations for individual talks are provided below:

Conference Gallery