The Environmental Services Association (ESA), the voice of the UK’s resource and waste management industry, set out a number of recommendations to more closely align the planning system with the strategic objectives of the Circular Economy.
“It is vital for the UK’s future competitiveness – said Jacob Hayler, executive director of ESA – that we move towards a Circular Economy, where manufacturers, retailers, businesses of all kinds, consumers and the waste and recycling industry work together to ensure that products and materials are made and used efficiently and then wherever possible reused or recycled for future use. Where wastes cannot be economically or practically recycled they should be used to maximise low carbon energy generation”.
According to Hayler, “there are potentially huge cost savings to be made by businesses, pushing up their productivity, as we pursue greater resource efficiency. Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural areas, editor’s note) estimates that UK businesses could benefit by up to £23 billion per year from the introduction of quick-win resource efficiency measures”.
There have recently been positive moves to embed climate change objectives and sustainable economic growth at all levels of the planning system (national policy down to local plans). However, some of the preconceived notions of industry, often harking back to the days of reliance on landfill disposal, continues to prevail in many planning authorities and needs to be overcome if the planning system is to facilitate the delivery of the infrastructure capable of transitioning to the Circular Economy of the future. The nature of the Circular Economy will evolve over time as it continues to mature.
“In the short term – Hayler added – we need the planning system to provide the new treatment facilities the UK critically needs as landfill sites close around the country (municipal waste handled each year in the UK are 27 million tonnes). In the longer term, flexibility to adapt to new business models, new ways of thinking and meeting the demands of an increasingly environmentally conscious customer base will all take on greater significance. The planning system needs to adapt to these changes too and enable the industry to position itself to optimally manage material flows and source sustainable end markets for materials produced by the wider economy”.
There is significant scope to improve the planning culture within many local authorities to give the industry the flexibility it needs to adapt to the new, sustainable business models shaped by the Circular Economy.
ESA’s new report, Planning for a Circular Economy outlines key aspects of the planning regime which can often frustrate the industry’s efforts towards this aim.
“Many local authorities – ESA’s Policy Advisor, Stephen Freeland said – need to let go of the strict control culture that has prevailed in one form or another since the ‘landfill era’ and instead adopt a more responsive approach to planning for waste management which better recognises the variable and dynamic nature of the space in which our industry now operates. Our industry increasingly resembles that of any other logistics business with materials moved around as markets dictate. Few other sectors face the same planning and political obsession about the origin of material or commodities, and where these should be transported to. To hamstring the resource and waste management industry in such a way will likely hamper investment and progress towards the objectives of the Circular Economy”.
by Henry McWolf