Lorax EPI

edie Live 2018
by Ellen Thornton at 09:30 in Circular Economy, Emerging, Environmental, Packaging

On the 22nd and 23rd May, edie held their energy, sustainability and resource efficiency conference at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. Their theme this year was mission possible: achieving a sustainable future. The conference was packed with exhibitions, advice clinics and a live theatre programme which was split into four areas: sustainability, energy innovation, energy efficiency and resource efficiency. This article will give an overview of the resource efficiency theatre which covered a range of interesting topics such as the government's 25-year environment plan, the PRN system and the circular economy.

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Day 1

The first talk of the conference was entitled 'The next 25 years: Business and the resource revolution' with Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environment Audit Committee, as the first speaker. Mary started off by explaining that in the UK, there has been a lack of new environmental policy over the last 8 to 10 years, and hence recycling rates have stalled. She says we should expect the government to publish their resources and waste strategy later this year. The government has made a number of commitment recently, of which Creagh is quite sceptical.

1. Achieve a zero-waste economy by 2050 – Creagh states this time frame is too long and such a change should happen sooner.

2. Phase out avoidable plastic waste by 2042 – as previously expressed to Secretary of State for the environment, there needs to be a clear definition of what plastic waste is 'avoidable' in order to achieve this target.

3. New targets for waste and recycling which the government recently announced will be the same as those set by the EU.

4. Find a solution to stop waste going to landfill by 2030 – Creagh is adamant that this target can be achieved much sooner - by 2025 - and there are companies already doing this, such as company shop, who the government can learn from.

5. Reform the Packaging Recovery Notes (PRN) system using the waste hierarchy – Creagh questions whether the PRN has achieved anything so far. Packaging hasn't become easier to recycle, we still have a lot of litter, the quality of recycling is low and the cost to manufacturers, who produce the packaging, is as low as possible. She goes on to criticise the government's use of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, of which there are currently 3 types in place in the UK, in comparison to France who have 14 in place.

Finally, the topic shifted onto Brexit with no ambiguity on Creagh's views as a remainer. She explained that our EU membership has driven all our environmental progress. There is no deal we can do with the EU that will be as good for the environment as the deal we have now. The UK has proposed an environmental watchdog to take the place o​​f the European Court of Justice. However, the watchdog will have no powers to take anyone to court, they will only give advisory notices. This allows flexibility for the government and businesses to pollute and water down regulations. Furthermore, the environmental watchdog will not be ready in time for Brexit day, leaving uncertainty around how any environmental legislation will be regulated.

The second speaker was Peter Maddox, Director at WRAP, a company with expertise in circular economy and resource efficiency. Maddox agrees that recycling in the UK has flat lined with little economic or policy driver in place, hence a 'business as usual' approach will not meet the 65% target set by the EU. He is in favour of using EPR principles to communicate the importance of regarding recyclable design in packaging and ensure this is further communicated to the consumer. Often there isn't enough information available to consumers to be able to choose the more recyclable packaging; hence all producers should be rewarded by good design and recyclability. Due to China's recent ban on certain types of waste, we need to start looking at waste as a resource in the UK. There is a lot of talk of the 'Blue Planet effect' however, work with businesses on the UK plastics pact began before the series aired, which shows companies were already aware of the problem and keen to make changes.

Next up, to give an industry perspective on the situation, Susanne Baker, Head of Environment and Compliance from techUK. She states that the company welcomes a reform of the PRN system and expects to see the reform affect EPR operating systems as well. Furthermore, she expects eco-modulated fees to be used, which are expected to be a game changer. As a business, Baker thinks there should be a greater focus on waste as a resource and engagement with consumers should contribute to the discussion. She says there is a need to track waste through the system to increase resource efficiency, in addition, further support is required from the government for more resource efficient technology. Baker thinks there should be a method to regulate and measure eco-design as well as a system where the costs to producers reflect the actual costs of recycling.

Next up was possibly the most popular and topical talk of the whole conference: Solving the plastics problem: learning from the resource revolutionaries. First, Adam Hall, Head of Sustainability – Partnerships – Core marketing, Surfdome, explained his motivation for the work he does and the changes he's made in his business already. In some oceans, there is so much plastic in the water that it blocks UV light form reaching the sea floor which in turn prevents new life beginning. Everything in the ecosystem is connected and disruption such as that caused by plastics can affect the ocean waves and hence the surfers who are customers of Surfdome. Looking at ways to cut plastic use as a business, Surfdome now uses refillable ink cartridges, gum tape instead of Sellotape and cardboard boxes instead of plastic ones. He explaind that these measures may cost more money, but the company was able to find savings in other areas to cover the expenses.

Then we heard from Iain Ferguson, Environment manager at The Co-operative Group who recently made the commitment to make 80% of the packaging easily recyclable by 2020. So far, they have replaced polystyrene pizza bases with cardboard, removed black trays from mushroom, premium tomato baby corn, and mangetout packaging, launched a ready meal range in PP, used mono-APET for minced beef, introduced clear Christmas chocolate box inserts and removed plastic microbeads from products 16 years ago. They are now launching plastic free teabags this summer and using 50% recycled plastic in water bottles in an effort to create a market for recycled content. Ferguson comments that suppliers need to think about their packaging's recyclability through local councils, in addition to physical design. This should have simplicity to improve the end value of packaging, colour selection and removal of contamination to increase recyclability. He stresses the importance of clear, consistent labels to communicate recyclability to consumers. He further explains that small items such as stickers on fruit are too small for the recycling system and would ideally be made compostable, so they can be disposed of in food waste.

Finally, Henri Allen, Head of operations at A Plastic Planet, spoke about her strong views on plastic. She states that food and drink plastic packaging should not have to be recycled, alternatives to plastic should be used instead. There is an opportunity following China's waste ban to look at research and development into alternatives and incentives to use them. Potential options include compostable films, aluminium cans – 71% of which are already made form recycled aluminium and thermo-formed fibres. The plastic free consumer mark is beginning to be used on packaging in Iceland and by brands such as teapigs. Furthermore, Allen promoted world environment day which, this year, has a plastic free day theme which she urged everyone to take part in.

The next talk: What's a circular economy?: Redefining consumer relationships to reduce waste brought together some industry experts, such as Oliver Resevear, Energy and environment manager from Costa. At Costa, they did a study to map where their disposable cups ended up, with a surprising amount in households and in-store. Following this, an in-store recycling scheme was set up using James Cropper to recycle the cups. Resevear stressed the importance of making people aware that they can recycle their cups in-store and he also mentioned that Costa will now recycle any brand of coffee cups, not just their own. They have found engagement with consumers on cup recycling at drive throughs increases effectiveness of cup collection. There are now a growing number of sites that collect cups such ​as in offices, universities, etc. with an aim of collecting 500,000,000 cups by 2020. Dan Botterill, Chief executive of Ditto sustainability, expressed his views that there should be penalties or enforcement for people who put the wrong waste in the wrong recycling bins. He also noted that there are many companies that don't comply by their environmental obligations because they don't get enforced.

Day 2

The second day ​continued with the circular economy topic with the talk: Moving from ambition to action: Circular economy leadership, in practice. First up was Ken Webster, Head of Innovation at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation who started by explaining the complexities of implementing the circular economy. Resource efficiency isn't always the answer as it looks at making more from less resources but in a linear system, whereas the circular economy loop rebuilds capital by using waste as a resource. The important points are to design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use and to regenerate natural systems. There are many factors to consider – it is difficult to achieve a circular system as well as economic sustainability, environmental sustainability and social sustainability. No single firm can be circular, it only works if whole systems become circular.

Next up was Hege Sæbjørnsen, Country Sustainability M​anager at IKEA. She spoke about how implementing the circular economy is not just a form of sustainability it's a whole restructure of the business model. The negative impact of their products decreases as you move up the waste hierarchy; hence there is a need to prolong the life of products and materials in addition to using resources more efficiently. There needs to be a new approach to supply chains, customers and developing ranges. Furthermore, circular supply chains are very complex in addition to recycled raw material sourcing. Circular infrastructure involves products made from waste to close the loop; this has lead to IKEA making a kitchen from upcycled bottles and wood waste. They have been running a furniture take back and reuse service where they work with people and the furniture reuse network in the UK. Additionally, IKEA have a textile take back and revival service.

Following Hege, we heard from Tom Domen, Long-term Innovation Manager at Ecover. The company prides themselves on being exceptionally environmentally friendly and have been since their inception. Ecover's products are made to go down the drain so they work on chemicals that can safely enter the environment and focus on their end of life. The company's bottles have always been fully recyclable, and they have switched to plant-based packaging that is still recyclable, instead of plastic made from fossil fuels. Their new bottle is made from 100% recycled plastic, however, Domen explains how energy and quality is lost over time in reusing recycled materials. They are currently trialing recycled polypropylene plastic in their caps and are moving away from using black plastic as it is hard to recycle; their aim is​ for PET and PE bottles also to be made from 100% recycled material by 2020. The company also want to drive radical material reduction through refill and reuse. Domen says this is key, although the company has had refill systems in use for 20 years, they are not entirely convenient or used by many people. Although, there is growing consumer demand for refills, following the airing of blue planet 2, the demand increased by 300%. The options they are considering include: concentrated capsules or solid formats that consumers are required to add water to, durable refills in the home through delivery/ subscription services. There is always a challenge when it comes to changing consumer behaviour. Furthermore, they are looking into pioneering new materials considering the different degrees of biodegradability.

The next talk covered: The power of partnerships: reshaping the ecosystem through collaboration. Nick Cliffe, Innovation leader – manufacturing and materials at Innovate UK, explained how changing the nature of businesses to circular impacts on current supplier bases as becoming circular included the whole supply chain. In addition, there can often be greater costs involved initially as products produced will generally have a longer life. Following Cliffe, Eoghan Griffin talked about the challenges and successes John Lewis have experienced in implementing the circular economy. He explains how it can be difficult to implement the circular economy in a business such as theirs because they don't design all the products they sell themselves and hence can't just replicate someone else's business model. They have made extensive progress so far with: sofa reuse service – over 2,000 sofas reused through furniture reuse network; mattress recycling – over 50,000 mattresses recycled; large appliance recycling service (WEEE) – 346,000 items collected; carpet recycling – reprocessing carpet offcuts by their fitters and creating new underlay from it, at a comparable quality to conventional underlay. In addition to this, in Waitrose they have focused on packaging through phasing out back plastic and aiming to make all plastic packaging recyclable by 2025.

The final talk in the resource efficiency theatre, Sourcing resources: Why the future of supply chains is collaborative and circular, addresses supply chain complexities from a range of different perspectives. First up, Roth Romer, Private sector advisor from Wateraid explained how the charity supports workers in supply chains. For people to work effectively in the circular economy chain, they need to have accesses to clean water and sanitation. Next, Lena Staafard, Chief operating officer from Better Cotton Initiative told us how they provide renewable resource tools, information and training for farmers to reduce their impact of the environment. This in turn improves the quality of the cotton produced when it enters the supply chain; hence the farmers get a better price for their produce. Peter Goodwin, Co-founder of Simply Cups explains how he sees China's waste ban as a commercial driver to recycle our own waste, instead of shipping it off. Simply Cups has seen an increase in membership from companies who want to find something useful for paper cups at their end of life. The membership fees then greatly contribute to finding campaigns which have shown to significantly increase collections of cups in cities. They found that consumer collaboration was key as consumers want to do the right thing, they just need clear instructions to do it. Through putting this into practice, Simply Cups achieved separate collections of cups and lids with minimal contamination. Once collected, the disposable cups are used to make new, reusable 'rCUP's. The manufacture of these cups increases the value of waste disposable cups through creation of a market for the waste. Goodwin highlights how important competition is between coffee chains in making commitments in their circular supply chain.

We had a great experience at edie Live this year; it was great to hear from such a range of speakers from industry, not-for-profit organisations, academics and MP's. It was interesting to hear from the Chair of the Environment Audit Committee on how she thinks the government can do better when it comes to environmental policy. In contrast, it was very positive to see how well-educated companies are and the steps they are making and have already made towards making their businesses more circular and resource efficient. We look forward to next year! Our consultants are on hand to help with any questions you have about the topics discussed in this blog; please contact us here. ​

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