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Government must do more for recycling to avoid material shortages, manufacturers say

The Government must develop a more "ambitious" approach to waste management in order to tackle the shortage of materials that the manufacturing industry sees as its biggest threat, the industry has said.09 Jan 2012

In its six-month review (7-page / 156KB PDF) of the Government's waste policy, manufacturers' organisation EEF said that a new strategy should be developed which would make recycling the default option particularly for materials in short supply. It also called for the Government to update "unnecessarily complex" laws based on "out-dated presumptions".

It added that the principles in the Business Recycling and Waste Services Commitment, a voluntary code which sets out how local authorities can make it easier for businesses to recycle, should be made compulsory.

80% of manufacturing business leaders regard the current shortage of raw materials as a risk to their business, with two thirds of these saying it is their top risk, according to EEF figures. Gareth Stace, head of climate and the environment with the manufacturers' organisation, said that the industry could not afford to miss the opportunity to "make the best of what we have".

"Government policy has gone some way towards recognising these risks but to date it has not gone far enough. We now need a more ambitious approach which involved a resource strategy for the UK, simplified legislation and an improved infrastructure involving better access to local authority recycling," he said.

The Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) published its review of waste policy in June last year. At the same time it published commitments to work with industry on a range of measures to prevent waste occurring wherever possible and to explore the potential for voluntary responsibility commitments to encourage waste prevention and recycling.

The Government said these commitments would help it to develop a full waste prevention programme by December 2013.

The report said that the re-use of waste as a resource by others was prevented by over-complicated legislation, such as restrictive permits. In addition, some laws were based on assumptions that were "twenty years" out of date - for example, that waste will be sent to landfill for disposal even though less than a quarter of the waste generated by the manufacturing industry is now disposed of in this way, EEF said. Existing laws should be "rebalanced" so that waste is seen as a resource to be reused where possible and not disposed of as a first option, the report said.

"A simpler and more transparent communication of what is permissible in waste legislation would encourage better solutions. It would also counter misconceptions about waste regulation and streamline the confusing array of waste directives, regulations and policies," it said.

Currently 15 million tonnes of waste is exported for recycling each year, including 7.5m tonnes of valuable scrap metal, according to EEF figures. A new waste strategy could "ensure more of these resources are captured for domestic use" rather than be sent elsewhere due to insufficient facilities in the UK, its report said.

A Defra spokesperson said that the Government would shortly publish a Resource Security Action Plan to help businesses understand and overcome the risks of getting the raw materials they need to make their products.

"Businesses rely on these raw materials and we want to help them plan for the future and grow a sustainable economy. That's why the Government is taking steps to help UK businesses address these risks and ensure they can access the resources they need," the spokesperson said.