The UK’s waste problems are not about Brexit; this is a global problem affecting land use, oceans, health and livelihoods. Yes we do face uncertainty on our waste recycling post Brexit, but supply and demand is changing all over the world.
Last year, the world’s biggest importer of waste, China, banned the import of recyclable waste in an effort to clean up its environment. So where to go next? The stampede towards Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam was swift and overwhelming. And all these countries are in the rogues’ gallery for ocean pollution.
India is the latest country to close its doors to European exporters of recyclable material. They can do this because, like China, India has embraced the circular economy model for sustained growth. They are investing heavily in sustainable raw material policies and have set up the Indian Resource Panel, sitting under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, to assess resource efficiency.
Combine this strategy with a massive move towards low-cost renewable energy, and India is in an enviable position of being able to choose what and when they import, and at what cost. The world has changed and the supply demand curve has been tilted heavily in favour of the end user – prices for relatively low grade recycled commodities have reduced substantially in line with demand.
So, what of Europe and the UK?
Our position is having to play catch up – and quickly. Around the world renewable energy prices are falling consistently, and the heart of a healthy economy is plentiful and relatively low-cost energy. Renewable energy generation in the UK is growing, but too slowly. Wavering Government support has set back investment in the sector – it’s now at the lowest level since 2008. We must be more aggressive with renewable targets and billions of pounds of low-cost capital will be needed to meet them.
For too long we have relied on the export market as the easy option for our recyclables. We consume, then ship off the waste to a developing country – to the tune of over 10 million tonnes of paper and plastics each year. It is now vital that we invest in secondary material (materials that have already been recycled) reprocessing.
Apart from getting shot of the piles of waste, this reprocessing will provide high quality, cost effective raw materials for UK manufacturing. The UK now lacks resources of paper, plastic and ferrous metals resulting from the trend over the last 20 years of closure and market consolidation in reprocessing infrastructure. It’s a win-win.
Here in the Earthworm community, we are doing our bit looking at the latest technologies and processes, powered by renewables to turn waste into resource – working towards a circular economy. We’ll keep you posted of our new investments soon. Let’s not waste another minute.