TALKING IN THE ROUND
Who is driving the circular cause
and what more needs to be done to support businesses?
Ian Wakelin, CEO,
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
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
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
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.