Resource efficiency could boost UK economy by £9bn

13th September 2016

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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Waste ,
  • Mitigation


Silvana Palacios

Ambitious policy on resource conservation should be at the heart of the UK's industrial strategy, according to waste company Suez.

In a report assessing the long-term direction for the waste management industry, the firm calls on the business, energy and industrial strategy department (BEIS) to encourage greater use of secondary raw materials in products manufactured in the UK.

This would stimulate a domestic recycling and reprocessing industry focused on delivering quality secondary materials to UK-based manufacturers, it said.

The UK exports 14 million tonnes of secondary materials a year, but if all the resources remained in the country it would generate around £650 million a year, the study concluded.

The waste sector recovers around £15bn from waste in the form of secondary materials and energy, but because of disconnected waste and industrial policy half of recyclates and 90% of waste-derived fuel is exported. This is despite the fact that the UK is a net importer of primary raw materials and energy.

Keeping these resources in the UK economy would not only help to ‘future-proof’ the UK economy against supply risks, but also create employment in new waste-related activities, Suez argued. In addition, strong circular economy policies would benefit firms financially as they would reduce their use of primary raw materials.

The study highlights the opportunities for improved recycling, reuse and repair of primary materials in the textiles, furniture and electrical and electronic equipment sectors.

Improved recycling rates would also reduce the UK’s carbon emissions, with a 70% level cutting CO2 by 27 million tonnes, or 3.4% of the UK’s 1990 emissions.

The report recommends that BEIS works with the Treasury and Defra on incentives and taxation to encourage businesses to consume less primary materials and reuse more secondary ones. This could include:

  • legislation obligating manufacturers to offer longer-term warranties to influence the durability or repairability of goods;
  • obligations to include percentages of reused or recycled materials in some goods supplied to public sector organisations;
  • enhanced producer responsibility, where producers of a wider range of goods are obliged to pay the cost of recovering and recycling products and their packaging;
  • different tax regimes, such as VAT, to promote use of recycled materials over primary raw materials; and
  • tax breaks for research and development on innovative processing techniques.

Suez said its vision would be suitable under the UK’s current membership of the EU and when it leaves. However, the report acknowledges that Brexit may make some of its recommendations less likely to happen.

Dominic Hogg, founder and chairman of Eunomia Research and Consulting, which carried out the research, said: ‘An environmentally-informed industrial strategy would not only look at how we might use materials within industry, but would look to the waste and resources sector to see how industries could be supplied with the materials they need.

‘There’s a real opportunity to develop a symbiotic relationship between the waste and resources sector, and other industrial sectors, and in doing so, to support the growth of the economy. The word ‘waste’ should become a redundant one in our vocabulary,’ he said.


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