What the waste management sector can expect in 2019

2018 delivered its fair share of problems for the waste management sector. We saw challenges arise from abroad – the largest of these being China’s refusal to import waste in January last year. We have also seen them appear closer to home, with the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy and industry rumours of tax increases on waste incineration.

Business leaders should be aware that 2019 will be a year of pivotal importance for businesses hoping to adapt to or overcome these challenges.

Expect the public debate to focus more on waste management

Sir Richard Attenborough’s recent UN speech prompted another public debate about climate change and the impact of waste on the environment. However, it was Blue Planet II which unleashed public soul searching and pushed the issue up the media agenda in 2018.

It will not go away this year. In fact, we will likely see more pressure piled on producers to cut the use of highly visible sources of waste, such as plastic packaging. We will also probably see an increase in people asking why waste is ending up in the natural environment – putting the UK’s waste management sector’s processes and methods under the media spotlight.

People across the sector need to ask themselves if they are ready for increased public scrutiny. So far, the media debate around waste has been vociferous but lacking in nuance or engagement with key issues driving waste generation (e.g. the need to protect food, consumer demand etc). 2019 will increase the need for those with an understanding of these issues to clearly articulate the realities of packaging and waste management. The sector must highlight that there are few easy options for dealing with packaging once it has been discarded by consumers.

The policy arena will change

Stakeholders across the sector waited throughout 2018 with bated breath for several Government announcements. The Government’s Resource and Waste Strategy, originally expected in the late spring, delayed to autumn, finally arrived this week. Industry responses were unsurprisingly mixed, with the Federation of Small Businesses calling on the Government to give businesses time to adapt to the new regulations in the context of Brexit uncertainty.

Nevertheless, this strategy marks a step-change in the Government’s thinking and approach to waste and recycling. People across the sector should not view it in isolation, but rather first step in a slew of new reforms over the next few years which are expected to change the face of numerous business sectors.

One area of change will be the reforms to extended producer responsibility. Fresh legislation will be introduced in 2021 with the intention for it to take effect in 2023. It’s expected to include standardised recycling labelling, and increased costs for packaging producers using unrecyclable materials.

The electricals sector can expect a shake-up with a promised review of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment regulations next year. These will be changed to incentivise manufacturers to produce electrical devices designed to last longer and generate less electrical waste.

These are a few of the many areas ripe for review by the Government, with ramifications for sectors ranging from manufacturing to transport and food. However, Government thinking seems to have altered significantly. It seems focused on a system-wide overhaul of how resources, waste and products are dealt with from inception to disposal and re-use.

It’s time to talk

Business leaders should be spending this time horizon scanning. The next step will be to get out there and communicate with the public, sector and Government in 2019. Some of the changes may seem far off, however businesses can reap the benefits of engaging with the public and Government early on. After all, we could all do with more certainty in 2019.

Want to know more about threats and opportunities for the waste sector? Click here.

See more articles by Tim Swabey