In 2011 29% of profit warnings issued by FTSE350 companies were attributed to rising resource prices. Little wonder then that the Government’s Resource Security Action, published last week, grew out of these private sector concerns.
Admittedly, expectations around the plan itself weren’t particularly high. Being the first significant chunk of resource management policy since Defra’s disappointing Waste Review last summer, I for one wasn’t going to hold my breath.
When it landed on my lap, some immediate headline-sniffing began. On first glance I wasn’t impressed - £200,000 to help businesses come up with some inventive thinking around closed loop recovery models is almost insulting. Someone asked me if it was a typo – “surely they mean £2 million?” – err, no. It really is that paltry.
To put that into context, take the £250 million fund that Eric Pickles managed to squeeze out of Treasury coffers to entice the return of weekly bin rounds. This is failing to deliver because the environmental economics of such a switchback don’t stack up.
Basically, the Government is prioritising the state of our nation’s wheelie bins ahead of the global issue of critical materials scarcity. How very reassuring. Anyway I digress – back to those headlines.
The most interesting and arguably most valuable action the plan sets out is to map and analyse material flows across the UK, initially targeting WEEE hotspots. WRAP is to take the lead in this work, but there is little detail as to how it will work.
The document does show a simple little diagram though labelled ‘UK materials flow’ – which looks like a national rail train route map. Some high level critical flow analysis will be embedded into this, apparently.
My question would be, well how? And do we have the data – or rather, enough data – to do this? Especially when so much of our WEEE is notoriously leaking (excuse the pun) out of the system. Presumably you would have to start mapping certain parameters like business waste arisings, by material type, geography and sector – that type of thing.
I remember a talk given by Peter Scholes on commercial waste last year. He heads up the Urban Mines consultancy and has done a lot of work in trying to do some trend analysis around these arisings and how they fluctuate.
He said at the time it was a real challenge, mainly because he had limited data to work with. Government surveys are carried out intermittently – sometimes years apart – and so trying to build up a consistent picture is near impossible.
Those concerns aside, I think such a mapping project has real potential. It fits in with the quest towards a circular economy where companies can derive value from the flow of natural resources and ecosystems and start to take a few risks with alternative business models.
There are a few other measures outlined within the plan, but really, it is just a foundation wireframe at present. What will be more noteworthy are the outcomes that come out of those intentions, and for that we will have to wait a little while longer.