Awesome RWM NEC

The Resource and Waste Management exhibition happens every year in September at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre. For the Circular Collective, the Circular Economy Connect Theatre is such a brilliant opportunity to see for free! … and to hear the big players in the industry sharing their expertise and opinions.

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I had the chance of seeing charismatic Steve Lee, long-standing CEO of the Chartered Institute of Waste Management, chairing a panel discussion on the future of Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations (EPR) in the UK. These were adopted so that the ‘producers’ (manufacturers and sellers alike) of 1) packaging, 2) WEEE – waste electric and electronic equipment, 3) batteries, and 4) end-of-life vehicles pay for the environmental cost of these products at the end of their consumption. They can pay in two ways: 1) introduce their own take-back and treatment systems, or 2) must pay into a Producer Compliance Scheme – an agent that will take on that duty on their behalf. Fun fact: an Oxford based company named EcoVeritas provide companies and organisations with calculations and submission expertise for compliance with these regulations.

I was and still am a bit unclear when exactly these regulations were enforced in our country. They concept first legally emerged in the world in Sweden in 1990, introduced by Thomas Lindhqvist, and then the rest of the world picked up on the idea. From a brief research online, the first producer responsibility regulation dealt with packaging only, and came into force in 1997 in the UK. In 2014, then government published guidance on all four categories.

The panel consisted of key people in the sector, including Peter Jones – director of Ecolateral and former Director of Biffa, Jacob Hayler of Evironmental Services Association (ESA), Mark Dempsey of HP, Dr Kieren Mayers of Sony Computer Entertainment, Lee Marshall of the local-authority group LARAC, and Paul Vanston of Cambridge District and City Council. The main outcome of the discussion was whether the panel and the room considered that EPR was the one great step towards a circular economy (yes), whether action any of them can be improved (yes), whether any of the four categories should be put aside (no), and whether the categories should be expanded (yes – but let’s make sure we nail these four first).

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Another very interesting panel discussion – Dr Adam Read from Ricardo AEA chaired a conversation on the value and difficulties of waste data. The panel consisted of lead figures from Constructing Excellence in Wales, Environmental Services Association, SUEZ waste management company, BRE construction company. Some key ideas emerged, such as the greater need for data transparency (waste crime), accuracy, collection efficiency, collection towards a specific goal, standardisation, uniformity across the country, centralisation and managing data gaps are required. For my question on “what is your experience with waste, products and materials classifications”, the common theme was the difficulty that the various waste players encounter when placing a ‘waste’ batch in a certain category, but there was no mention of how the classification itself is built. Another interesting point was the need for developing a method for monitoring reuse and repair activities.

One difficulty I had with the discussions was that I had the impression that it was assumed that auditorium is well informed of the background and essentials of the topic. For instance, I was keen to hear what official lists, codes or classifications the industry uses, who builds the classifications, or whether classifications are constantly changing in order to meet the goals of circular economy activities. Therefore I asked the panel the following question “what is your experience with material and products classifications?”. I now realise I may have been slightly too vague, as most of the answers seemed to be in reference to bespoke projects that the speakers were on board, whereas I was hoping for a more nation-wide or Europe-wide answer. If you were curious about the same thing, I have done some post-exhibition research, and here is a good place to start – the European Waste Catalogue, transcribed in the UK as the List Of Waste. Nevertheless, my conclusion is that waste, products and material classifications may be very specific to individual projects.

Without going much into details for other aspects of the visit, here are some interesting keypoints, relevant for the Circular Collective and its followers:

  • I had a great chat to a person from the Furniture Reuse Network, who offer the same service as us (not only for furniture!), but at a national level and using motorised vehicles. We agreed that the best partnership we could have is refer to each other in case we cannot perform a collection due to the size of donation, and stay up to date with our developments.
  • I attended a very inspirational talk about recent commercial development for a more circular, socially and environmentally fairer world – check out on Jaguar’s REALCAR (recycled aluminium), VegWare compostable food packaging, and Interface’s Net-works carpet tiles made of ocean pollution fish-nets.
  • I had the pleasure of hearing from Joan Marc Simon from Zero Waste Europe on the EU’s stand on Brexit with respect to waste management – pretty much “sort yourselves out, you’ll fall behind on zero waste because Europe is more driven in terms of environmental legislation, but if you want to talk and join a specific deal (no economic arrangement / EFTA / EEA) we will talk”.

Thank you for reading so far! I hope you enjoyed it, and I’ll leave you with some pictures and captions of what they mean for the rest of the post.

Have great days,

Alex

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The Theatre was in a cool indoors inflatable tent!

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The outline of what the European Circular Economy Strategy wants

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