Lorax Compliance Environmental Blog . . .

RWM Exhibition 2017
by Ellen Thornton at 13:05 in Circular Economy, Environmental, Packaging, Emerging

The RWM is an exhibition of four industry events – The Energy Event, The Renewables Event, The Water Event and RWM. Held in the National Exhibition Centre over 3 days, the event had six zones representing the Ene​rgy, Water and recycling and waste markets.

RWM's Mission Statement:

"RWM seeks to build a community for a resource-efficient future. We connect innovators and influencers with businesses, public sector bodies, governments and not for profits to deliver solutions that are both environmentally sound and profitable. We do this because we want to play our part in One Living Planet."

At Lorax, we are always keen to see what other businesses and government bodies are doing in the environment industry. Hence, we attended an array of seminars throughout the conference, these are just some of the highlights.

Day One

Our first day was kick started by Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency (EA), who spoke about the Agency's success so far in shutting down illegal waste sites. Emma detailed the importance of industry engagement to ensure that waste is correctly described, treated and managed to safeguard healthy communities and the environment, whilst contributing to economic growth. In addition, Emma announced that the EA and the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to officially agree to share information and to carry out joint operations across England to help cut the transportation of illegal waste as well as improve road safety.

Second on the agenda was a talk from SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, who launched their report 'Mind the Gap 2017-2030'. In summary of their main findings, SUEZ explained how landfills are closing at a greater rate than expected, however, energy from waste plants which are needed to replace landfills are in shortage. This has the potential to result in a capacity problem for municipal waste in the UK.

Next to the stage was Sonja Wegge, a Research Analyst from the New Plastics Economy - Ellen MacAuthur Foundation, Sonja spoke about the New Plastics Economy visions as well as the theory of the Circular Economy. She explained how plastics are essential in our daily lives hence, the New Plastics Economy aims to design in circularity instead of phasing out plastics altogether. Currently, 20% of plastics in use have potential to be reused, this needs to be changed to reduce plastic waste. However, around 30% of plastics would require a fundamental redesign so they have potential to be reused. Multi-material plastics can be very difficult to recycle, as are uncommon plastics. Nutrient contamination from food makes reuse and recycling difficult also. Sonja called on a systematic approach to transform the plastics system and cross-value chain collaboration as a key driver for the transition.

Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), currently a hot topic, were debated by a panel consisting of representatives from McDonald's, Coc​a-Cola, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Industry Council for Research on Packaging and the Environment. As you can imagine, the panel expressed an array of opinions. McDonald's on one hand, made clear that any such scheme would mean increased costs to their customers and did not see a DRS as a positive for their business. Coca-Cola however, who have recently been promoting their newfound green campaign, are keen to increase the amount of recycled plastic they use in manufacturing bottles and could see DRS as a way to do this. DEFRA, the only government representative, indicated they would be monitoring the success of the recently announced DRS in Scotland but were reluctant to offer any further insight to their future plans ahead of the release of their waste strategy plan in April next year. Paul Vanston expressed concerns about how a DRS should not just be about shifting costs, we need to know what a DRS could offer us that we don't get at the moment.  The debate often returned to subject of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) with McDonald's and Coca-Cola stressing the need for a reform. As producers they expressed how they contribute a large amount of funds to packaging compliance but then don't see where their money goes. The general consensus seemed to be that recycling on-the-go needed to be targeted, however whether or not a DRS would be the best solution is still under debate.

Day Two

On day two, we had the opportunity to hear from Rebecca Walker, Waste and Landfill Tax Manager at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Rebecca explained the Agency's new sector approach and how they want to encourage secondary resource use and general circularity as opposed to the use of virgin materials. The quality of recycling was highlighted as an issue as currently 17% of recycling is contaminated. Furthermore, Rebecca spoke about SEPA's intentions to work with individual businesses to negotiate agreements and ensure compliance.

The 4 Nations debate – UK resource landscapes and roadmaps was articulated by representatives of each nation – Andy Reeves, Head of Waste Strategy in the Welsh Government, Iain Gullan, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, John Quinn, CEO of Arc​21 and Libby Peake, Senior policy advisor, resources at Green Alliance​. There was much discussion over the uncertainty of Brexit and whether the nations will work together to manage resources and become more circular or if the nations will become fragmented with different approaches to environmental policy. In general, it was agreed that there is a need for more focus on reuse and reductions, supported by targets, and to reduce the volume of resources which end up being recycled.

Day Three

On the third and final day, discussion around Brexit continued with a talk given by Dr Colin Church, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Waste Management​ (CIWM). Colin spoke about the uncertainty of the future of environmental projects which are currently funded by the EU and whether the UK government will fund these instead. He raised the question of who would enforce and implement environmental law as currently over half the current UK environmental law comes from the EU. Furthermore, Colin stated he had no doubt the EA will continue its strict enforcement however, there is great uncertainty as to whether UK policy will be as strong. Suggestions of moving away from waste targets were made, as these don't give a realistic reflection of how much waste is actually recycled, only that which is collected.

Once again plastics packaging was a popular subject for debate, with a focus on combating the challenges of recovery. Kerbside recycling is a well-established system, yet recycling rates are nowhere near as high as they could be and people still struggle to understand how to recycle properly. So why is it so difficult? The panel raised issues such as packaging materials constantly changing and hence the public not being kept up to date or even initially properly educated on recycling guidelines. It was generally agreed that a common domestic standard would greatly improve kerbside recycling. Once again, the point that collection rates are not an effective way to measure recycling was raised and new targets should be set as well as the possibility of incentives for markets to use recycled materials in preference to virgin ones. Reusable and refillable packaging was also discussed with the conclusion that it would need to be a cheaper alternative in order to incentivise people, the importance of ease was also raised.

The final seminar we attended gave insight into businesses who are already using the circular economy ideas and creating business which utilise sharing economies. Premier Sustain creates commercial opportunities for unwanted office furniture by selling it on to another, instead of paying to dispose of it. Ann Beavis, Marketing and Sustainability consultant as Premier Sustain highlighted that once something is classed as waste it has a stigma attached to it. To avoid this, everything the business deals with is treated as a resource and therefore remains desirable. Opportunity Peterborough provides a sharing platform where businesses can bring products/skills they don't need any more or only need some of the time to share with other businesses. This results in saving money and resources by sharing instead of paying for new products when another business no longer needs theirs and can instead share it for free.

The exhibition offered the opportunity to listen to both industry and government representatives, as well as the chance to interact and ask questions of them. On the whole, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Brexit and industry is hoping for clarity in the near future. Furthermore, plastic packaging, extended producer responsibility and Deposit Return Schemes seem to be on everyone's mind and it looks like we may see government action soon. Finally, it is great to see so many businesses taking advantage of the circular economy initiative and incorporating it into their business models.

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