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Waste to energy enthusiast Chris Oldfield reflects on 2013 EfW Conference

Waste to energy enthusiast Chris Oldfield

“We spent months preparing for Recycling and Waste World’s annual Energy from Waste conference and once again we were not disappointed that we decided to attend.  The 2013 event was perhaps the most inspiring and thought-provoking conference yet – we enjoyed being able to pass on our own specialist insight as an exhibitor, at the same as learning from the other industry professionals who spoke across the two days.

If you are a sponge for learning and if you want to be at the forefront of what is going on and coming up in our exciting industry, then this is definitely the event for you.

I personally found Sita UK’s CEO David Palmer-Jones particularly inspiring, and was in full encouragement of his view that as a nation we need to achieve more from our waste. For years I have been championing the fact that waste should be viewed as a resource or secondary material, and it was great to hear one of the industry’s most senior professionals echo this.

The words of Shadow Minister for Water and Waste Gavin Shuker MP, also struck a chord. He commented on the importance of the Government speaking with one voice when it comes to waste management, and he suggested that one office of resource would perhaps be more valuable than numerous departments such as DECC and Defra working alongside each other.

Whilst I concur with the need for the UK to develop a unified front when it comes to better tackling waste management and our progress towards a ‘zero waste’ economy, I feel we need to look far past party politics.

We need a clearer direction, with legislation and frameworks, not just targets. The problem with targets is that they are viewed by many as simply aspirational – something that can be excused with relative ease if they remain unachieved. In many respects targets can also be surpassed, but achievement of a target is all too readily accepted as ‘job done’.

On the other hand, where there is a legal obligation to behave in a certain way and that behaviour is ‘policed’, you tend to see more positive changes. You can bet that our commitment to landfill diversion would not have improved at the rate it has, if directives had not been passed to govern this area of environmental conduct.

Charlotte Morton, chief executive of ADBA, shared a similar viewpoint in one of her blogs recently, and she cited the phrase “together we are stronger”. Clichéd it may be, but it is surely valid, in our industry especially. At present our energy and waste management policies, initiatives, incentives and targets are so complex and fragmented. People are tending to jump on the ‘phrase bandwagon’, rather than championing actual behaviour.

The circular economy is a concept that I support wholeheartedly, but it was mentioned every two minutes at the Energy from Waste conference and I couldn’t help but wonder how many people truly understand what constitutes a circular economy, and how many people actually commit to its principles. I just hope it doesn’t become an overused saying that begins to lose its meaning and credibility.

It cannot be disputed that, when it boils down to it, progress of any sort is just that. Progress. And we need to keep moving in this direction.

However, when you hear the inspiring thoughts of some of our industry’s most knowledgeable professionals, you also can’t help but think how much more potential the UK has to reach. Let’s hope the Government begins to listen more to these forward-thinking waste and recycling champions; they may be exactly what we need.”

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