UK must exceed EU on resource efficiency post-Brexit

Standards on resource efficiency should match or be better than those implemented by the EU circular economy package to ensure businesses and consumers are not disadvantaged, the Aldersgate Group said.

Launching a report showcasing resource efficiency pilot projects, the Aldersgate Group noted that much of the UK’s policy on the issue has stemmed from EU legislation. 

UK businesses wanting to continue exporting goods and services to the EU would need to adhere to the bloc’s revised ecodesign standards, which are currently being developed. 

The UK’s resource productivity increased between 2000 and 2014, yet over the same period there has been a decline in physical exports and an increase in imports. 

The group suggested that this widening gap is because the UK is becoming more reliant on material production in other countries and is therefore more susceptible to price volatility in commodity markets and fluctuations in exchange rates. 

Becoming more resource efficient would boost employment and competitiveness while cutting resource dependence, waste and CO2 emissions, it said. Other countries, including the Netherlands and China, have already embedded resource efficiency into their national strategies, potentially putting the UK at a disadvantage. 

The report showcases pilots that ran across the UK and the Netherlands as part of the EU-funded REBus project to demonstrate how businesses and their supply chains can implement resource efficient models. 

The project is led by waste and resource efficiency adviser Wrap and includes Dutch government body Rijkswaterstaat, the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network and the University of Northampton. 

The 26 pilots saved the companies involved £4.89m, and reduced materials consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions by 62,619 tonnes and 1,953 tonnes respectively. Based on these results, the Aldersgate Group estimated that, if similar strategies were employed by the electrical and electronic products, textiles, construction and ICT sectors, the UK economy could benefit by up to £76.9bn gross value added. 

The Aldersgate Group also recommended: 

  • the development of government policy on resource efficiency, backed by all key departments across Whitehall and favouring resource efficient products in public procurement;
  • fiscal incentives to encourage the re-use of materials, such as variable VAT rates that favour resource efficiency goods and services; 
  • an improvement of waste regulations to ensure that secondary materials are not classified as waste, as long as a safe, alternative use can be found for them; and
  • better access to finance and technical advice for businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, to drive innovation on resource efficiency.

Steve Wallace, director of the Aldersgate Group, said: ‘The REBus project sets an important precedent that others can follow. The pilots demonstrate that resource efficiency makes business sense and there’s a double-win given the environmental benefits that coincide with the financial gains.’

Author: 

Catherine Early is a freelance journalist.

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