BS 8001 is the world’s first framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organisations. Martin Brocklehurst offers a personal perspective on what it all means for the waste industry…
Visit any decaying Victorian industrial town in Britain and you will see why we need a new vision that lays out how we can create wealth in a global world of changing economic fortunes. Talk to any cash strapped local authority about the impact of budget cuts as they seek to deliver services with dwindling resources and the problem is laid bare. The circular economy offers that new vision.
In a nation with largely exhausted primary raw materials, mined out by our Victorian forefathers, we have a natural pool of under used resources in the materials we discard, which we have forgotten how to exploit. In our rush to embrace the consumer society, to fuel a demand led economy fed on ever-cheaper goods we have forgotten the basics of sound economics. Now importing over 70% of the goods and services we need we fail to generate enough wealth to pay for them. The balance of trade deficit and the ever-growing levels of debt are the visible results.
Ellen McArthur has laid out a possible solution in her model for the future Circular Economy. She was right to emphasis that the key driver for this switch from a linear to a circular business model would be business driven and that it would be about growing profits, wealth and creating new jobs. The financial numbers that she quotes, backed up by trusted economists are “eye watering” and could potentially deliver new growth of 2-3% GDP.
Put another way WRAP have mapped what such a change would do for employment in the UK, constituency by constituency. Our MP’s only have to look at the map produced to see that it would all but wipe out the stubborn pockets of unemployment in our former industrial areas that currently blight Britain. Yet at least in England our Government provides no leadership to drive this change.
The problem is that the world has also woken up to the opportunity and a race has begun to see who can exploit the opportunity and gain first mover advantage. With a pool of skilled labour, manufacturing infrastructure and a growing ability to collect, sort and reprocess millions of tonnes of waste materials the UK has a unique opportunity to gain that first mover advantage.
That we are not, and that recycling rates stagnate (at least in England) and volumes of waste to landfill are once more rising, is down to both the lack of leadership from our Government and the complexity for business in making the switch from the linear to the circular economy. We have pioneers in companies like Jaguar Land Rover, but the pace of change is nowhere near fast enough.
Whilst we procrastinate and move backwards in our relationships with the EU others are putting in place the fiscal infrastructure needed to help companies overcome the financial and technical barriers in making the change. China, Japan, Korea and parts of the USA are setting out to take full advantage of the Circular Economy and increasingly are drawing recovered secondary raw materials back from Europe to gain the economic advantage of using them.
Leading European cities like Rotterdam and Antwerp are also laying out ambitious plans to attract the flows of secondary materials from across Europe and ensure the jobs and economic growth they bring can be secured. Britain meanwhile risks seeing all these materials leak away in cheap or low value exports that others turn into higher value goods. During the transition phase we even find ourselves paying to export Refuse Derived Fuels (RFD) that others can turn into cheap energy, further undermining our own competiveness.
No one in our industry can be pleased to see the ever growing volumes of secondary raw materials leaving Britain, when they could, with the right fiscal and industrial policies be used in the UK. It has been a long time since we saw UK Government with real vision set out fiscal frameworks to radically change the waste industry. Not since the landfill tax escalator shook the industry have we seen a UK Government use fiscal controls to drive change. In the current Brexit vortex we can expect no leadership from our Government in this area.
If we are to make progress it will have to be driven by industry. That is what makes the recent BSI Standard so important. A guidance standard to help industry understand what it must do to get a share of this economic bonanza that awaits the pioneers who get the change process right. Any change is risky, and one so disruptive, requiring new skills and new relationships across the supply chain more so. Add to that volatile commodity prices and entrenched interests fighting to maintain market share and the barriers can look daunting. The Standard is designed to blow away the myths of the Circular Economy, map out route maps to follow and make clear the “elephant traps” that must be avoided.
As an industry we have a chance to comment and then promote the standard to manufacturers in the UK. We need to be confident that it is in our own interests that we do so. We need to forge new relationships, to understand what secondary raw materials manufacturers need and to design the systems and processes capable of producing them.
We have to put in place new standards and develop new trading markets so that we can produce these materials to a price and quality that will displace primary raw materials from the market place. That way we can be at the centre of one of the most exciting and challenging times our industry has seen in the last 100 years. If we fail we will condemn our industry to become peripheral to the circular economy, collecting, sorting and supplying low value materials from which others will derive the profit. As an industry we must, no we will, embrace and own this standard, use it to bang on the doors of manufactures and to shout loud and clear we have the skills to provide you with the raw materials of tomorrow that you will need.
You only have to look at recent work by ISWA on the Circular economy to see the opportunities opening up for the waste industry. Organic waste, converted into compost/digestate with an actual value of $66 million across OECD countries, but with a fertiliser equivalent value of $121 million if we market it correctly. A material currently discounted in the market place and undervalued before we add in the wide ranging carbon benefits, such as carbon sequestration and improving drought tolerance that are not costed into the value of the product.
This picture can be replicated across many secondary material flows. I want to see the waste industry use this standard to create the partnerships of tomorrow with key manufactures to ensure the value added from recovering and re-using secondary raw material rests within the waste and resource management industry. We must not allow it to leak away and for other countries to gain the economic advantage; if we are going to maintain our standard of living in the new global economy we must drive the change to the Circular Economy.
You can have your say on the draft of BS 8001 which is available for public comment until the 15th January 2017 on BSI’s Draft Review System – click here