Waste sector outlook for 2024: part 1 – letsrecycle.com

Waste sector outlook for 2024: part 1 – letsrecycle.com

Jacob Hayler, executive director, Environmental Services Association

Despite continuing political turbulence in Westminster, 2023 delivered high-level clarity on the missing pillars of Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS), with Government setting out its plans for a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and “Simpler Recycling” – to homogenise the way recycling and waste materials are collected across England.”

Jacob Hayler, executive director of the ESA

These policy pillars must dovetail seamlessly with previously announced policies, including Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and demand-side measures, such as the plastic packaging tax, if Government wishes to meet its ambition of a sixty-five per cent municipal recycling rate by 2035.

However, many of the essential details that will determine how well these policy instruments play with each other are yet to be finalised as the clock continues to countdown into 2024 and closer towards the proposed implementation of DRS and EPR in 2025, alongside waste and recycling service changes under simpler recycling for large businesses – with councils and micro businesses following in 2026 and 2027 respectively.

These changes will result in impacts across the whole economy, and it is essential that 2024 delivers clear and workable statutory guidance that can be implemented in a practical and pragmatic way, while also meeting the requirements of the EPR regime to provide an efficient and effective service. The ESA looks forward to continuing to work with our peers and policymakers to make sure, as quickly as possible in 2024, that the final policy details emerge and enable our members to finally bring the reforms from drawing board to reality.

Another looming deadline, and which perhaps represents the stick to the RWS carrot, is the inclusion of energy recovery from waste in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) from 2028, which is arguably (alongside EPR) one of the biggest policy shake-ups our sector has seen since the introduction of the Landfill Tax in the nineties. There is a significant amount of work to do to ensure that a fair and equitable regime is put in place so the ESA, throughout 2024, will be operating a full-time working group to ensure it aligns with the blueprint for success set out in our ETS strategy in September 2023. We expect the ETS work stream to begin quickly, with a consultation from DESNZ anticipated early in Q1, so our sector will need to hit the ground running in the New Year.

As far as broader trends for 2024 go, data and data collection is a golden thread running through many areas of resources and waste policy – from the voluntary implementation of Digital Waste Tracking systems in 2024 (ahead of mandatory implementation in 2025) to new sampling and reporting requirements under EPR as well as monitoring and reporting requirements emerging under ETS for energy recovery, which we expect will be introduced from 2026. Clearly, technology has a role to play in successful data capture and analysis, and with

Artificial Intelligence (AI) really coming to the fore of public consciousness in 2023 through Chat GPT and its contemporaries, we predict our sector will deploy more AI solutions and computer vision systems to help capture and analyse data and to protect people and facilities – indeed the ESA continues to work on AI projects to tackle the issue of battery fires, which will undoubtedly persist into 2024 (although we also expect a long-overdue consultation on battery regulations reform in the New Year too!)

But, with the very high likelihood of a General Election in 2024 and the disruption this creates, it is imperative that sufficient policy momentum is gathered as early as possible in 2024 because the country cannot afford any further delay if we are to meet our circular economy, environmental and decarbonisation ambitions.

John Scanlon, chief executive, Suez recycling and recovery UK

While we certainly didn’t sit back on our heels in 2023, I’m predicting 2024 as a year of change for the industry.

Veolia Suez
John Scanlon, chief executive of Suez UK,

Not least with a General Election looming, which I’m hoping doesn’t lead to too much stagnation and disruption – we waited long enough for a response around consistent collections after all. Though everything we’re hearing suggests that the expected change in Government would still be supportive of continuing with the reforms we’ve all been working hard on which is essential as there are lots of big opportunities on the horizon and we need 2024 to be a year of action!

Looking forward, we’ve got ‘Simpler Recycling’ driving the requirement for councils and businesses to start consistent food waste collections in the imminent future. This consistency will stretch to dry recycling, including flexible packaging in 2027, and as such we’re already planning for new sites, vehicles, infrastructure and end markets to ensure that we’re providing the right service offering and able to meet the demand of our customers.

At the back of this, payments for local authorities around ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ will begin, and our EFWs will become part of the ‘Emissions Trading Scheme’. If all of this is going to become a reality and bring the changes needed to the industry, there is a lot to achieve in the year ahead, and we’ll be continuing to work together with Government and our customers to make it happen.

Perhaps my bigger worry is ensuring that we have the right people to help to deliver all of this change. The forthcoming ‘green jobs delivery group’ report and alignment with the net zero action plan will be absolutely vital for mapping the skills needed to transition us to where we need to get to in support of the UK economy.

Our sector has already faced recruitment challenges which peaked during COVID, and we need to ensure that as a country we’re planning properly for our future workforce if we are to achieve these important milestones in our journey towards a circular economy.

At SUEZ our leadership team are already actively addressing this challenge, with a plan for future critical skills, the development of our existing workforce, and attracting new talent to our sector, to ensure that we’re prepared for what will be a very competitive labour market for those with the skills and competencies most needed in the sectors that are transitioning over the next decade.

Lee Marshall, policy and external affairs director, CIWM

2024 has the potential to be an exciting year when we really start to see the collection and packaging reforms take shape. The hope is we get the details needed to know how EPR is going work, the level of payments local authorities will receive and how the modulate fees will be designed. There will also be the formation of the EPR Scheme Administrator, along with its sister in DRS, the DMO.

Lee Marshall is CIWM’s policy and external affairs director

Any further delays in these will be frustrating to say the least and so the sector will really want to see tangible progress and the deadlines for implementation we currently have being stuck to. We can’t have the delays in 2024 we saw in 2022 and 2023.

We should also see progress on the revised Carriers Brokers Dealers reforms and work moving on to implement the new digital waste tracking system. Again, these reforms need a certain pace about them if they are to help the sector continue to evolve and move forward.

What CIWM would like to see though is much more emphasis and policy on the circular economy and embedding circular thinking into resource policy, along with other policy areas. At present if the circular economy is mentioned by Government, it is usually then referenced back to the Resources and Waste Strategy 2018. But that isn’t a circular economy document and so we need to see the government take the circular economy seriously and for them to take forward some policy reforms on it across government departments.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the prospect of a general election. The hope is it will not slow down or derail too much that is already in train, and ideally that it places more importance on the resources policy area within Defra and Government as a whole. The ultimate wish would be a circular economy strategy out by the end of 2024 from a Department for the Circular Economy. Now that would put us on the path to a world beyond waste.

Maxine Mayhew, COO collections and specialist services, Biffa

In 2024 we can look forward to a greater focus on the circular economy as the industry begins implementation of the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy.

Maxine Mayhew, COO Collections and Specialist Services at Biffa

These legislative reforms, including Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), Simpler Recycling in the UK, as well as Wales Workplace Recycling changes led by the Welsh Government, mark the most significant changes for recycling and the waste management sector in a generation.

With the full implementation of EPR due in 2025, this will be a big area of focus in 2024 with smaller producers joining large producers in reporting their packaging data from April. This should prompt businesses to start rethinking their packaging ahead of the introduction of fees in October next year, which are designed to reward the reduction and reuse of materials and inspire a more circular approach.

A key area where we hope to see a positive impact from EPR will be around food packaging, which paradoxically can both prevent and contribute to food waste. Research from WRAP in 2022 highlights that packaging can actually be a driver of fresh produce going to waste, forcing people to buy more than they need. With the removal of these date codes and the careful implementation of higher modulated fees for materials that are hard to recycle, we expect to see more loose fresh uncut produce on our shelves and less waste.

We were pleased to see that food waste had a renewed emphasis at the recent COP28 climate talks. The scale of the problem is clear: in the UK alone almost 9.5 million tonnes of food goes to waste every year, of which 6.4 million tonnes is edible. To combat this, we will continue to work tirelessly across our surplus redistribution business, Company Shop Group, and with our industry partners to prevent food waste and divert edible food away from disposal and to consumers.  This includes providing a unique end-to-end solution for surplus and waste management such as redistribution routes for products and encouraging the industry to follow the food waste hierarchy more stringently.

Company Shop Group is also investing in impact reporting capabilities that will enable clients to review reporting procedures, and provide them with bespoke impact reports outlining the volume of surplus redistributed and the subsequent social, economic and environmental impact of that.

Where food is inedible and food waste is unavoidable, it is vital this is collected separately so it can be used to generate renewable energy through Anaerobic Digestion, rather than going to landfill. We look forward to seeing increased food waste collection through Wales Workplace Recycling in April followed by the first phase of Simpler Recycling in England by 31 March 2025. As part of a wider drive for consistency of waste streams, we hope this will drive behavioural change where it will become a social norm to properly separate waste at the point of disposal. Only then can we improve recycling rates which have sadly plateaued in England in recent years.

The industry eagerly awaits the outcome of the consultation on Simpler Recycling for England and we’re looking forward to working with our local authority partners and businesses to prepare for the transition. We hope that local authorities will not be restricted to delivering fortnightly residual waste collections – lessons can be learnt from local authorities that have successfully enhanced their recycling rates whilst reducing residual waste by adjusting the frequency or capacity of waste collection services. As the industry looks to decarbonise further, identifying such efficiencies will result in reduced vehicle usage and lower carbon emissions. Alongside this, we hope to see active Government support for capital and operational costs associated with transitioning waste collection fleets to alternative fuels.

With such significant changes arriving in the next 24 months, it is essential that the Government continues to consult, and work actively with the industry on mobilisation in order to provide a long-term, stable policy environment. Whist there is still a gap between where we are now and the UK’s 2035 Resources and Waste Strategy targets, we have a once in a generation opportunity to adopt circular practices and 2024 will be a key year on the industry’s and society’s road to Waste Net Zero.

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