Who is driving the circular cause
and what more needs to be done to support businesses?

Guest Author:
Ian Wakelin, CEO, Biffa

September 2014

The waste management sector has both responsibility and opportunity in developing a circular economy. Finding ways to better deal with the vast diversity of waste materials generated each year is an ongoing challenge, and to do this we not only need to have solid collection systems in place, but also the necessary infrastructure to enable these materials to be reprocessed for local markets.

At Biffa we have a long-held view that many businesses need integrated resource management (IRM) support – not just back-end waste collection and disposal. That’s why we set up Biffa IRM, and more recently R3MC, a consultancy service that helps manufacturing businesses with complex waste streams. By embedding specialists on site, we can really understand the nuts and bolts of the customer’s operations and advise them on how to avoid wasting resources.

Providing locally-available treatment capacity for unavoidable industrial and commercial waste is another priority for Biffa. Over the past few years, we have been investing in facilities that are designed specifically to treat business waste close to where it is produced. With a presence in 95 per cent of UK postcode areas, our strategy for developing a network of business waste treatment facilities is being delivered according to local need.

Our modus operandi is scalable, and we have the critical mass to deliver locally. Biffa has 60 depots and 27 transfer stations, meaning we can link waste into a national network, reducing waste miles and delivering efficient, flexible and cost-effective services.

Keeping materials in the loop is key: we operate Europe’s largest AD facility at Cannock, which is now providing electricity back to the neighbouring Sainsbury’s facility in a circular fashion (we treat all of Sainsbury’s food that is no longer fit for consumption); and the newly refurbished Biffa Polymers plant in Redcar is recycling large quantities of plastics from across the country (plastic from Biffa Polymers is in about 80% of the UK’s milk bottles – over 50 million bottles every week).

There is still demand for more treatment capacity in the UK (be it recycling, AD, MRFs or EfW facilities) means. A circular economy will indeed rely upon an improved network of infrastructure, and the associated planning hurdles still need to be appropriately addressed. While householders object to waste being “imported” across otherwise superficial county boundaries, we will struggle to develop the kind of network proposed in the Green Alliance’s recent report.

Fortunately, the government is starting to address the demands of a circular economy, seeing waste as a resource and joining up their approach to the manufacturing and resource management sectors. Some promising case studies are emerging from other countries, such as the take-back scheme in Japan that is recovering 72 per cent of WEEE (compared to the UK’s 32 per cent) and the proliferation of used cooking oil recycling facilities in the USA, Brazil and China. What examples from abroad show us is that so much more value exists in our waste streams than we are recovering. Sustainable resource management and the circular economy represent a significant economic opportunity and long-term plans need to be put in place over the next few years.

Moving to a circular economy will require a huge shift both in terms of perceptions and practical action. There is hope amongst the industry that the new Waste Champion in BIS, Michael Fallon, will start to reshape the government’s approach to resource management and provide an environment in which the circular economy can flourish.

In the meantime, there is an ongoing need to deliver advice and treatment capacity for UK Plc, enabling businesses to avoid Landfill Tax, recycle more, and keep valuable materials in our economy.

© Copyright Biffa 2014. Reprinted by permission. http://www.biffa.co.uk
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