The UK produces almost 300 million tonnes of waste
every year. This tonnage
is roughly equivalent to that of 200 million cars, over six times
the total number of cars in the UK. Waste takes many forms, from
household food, to building materials, to gases emitted from factory
chimneys. Waste is managed in accordance with a 'waste hierarchy'
which prioritises waste prevention, followed by re-use, recycling,
recovery and disposal. Much of the household waste produced in
the UK is still put into landfill or incinerated (57%).
While preventing the creation of waste in the first place is a
laudable policy goal, it is inevitable that there will always
be wasteor unavoidable by-productssuch as orange
peel, coffee grounds or waste gas from factories and power stations.
Science and technology can be deployed in order to
transform certain kinds of waste into useful and valuable products.
These include lower value products such as heat and power through
to chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fragrances, bio-plastics and aviation
fuels of higher value. This inquiry investigated the science and
technology underpinning the transformation of carbon-containing
waste into useful and high value products, and assessed the economic
and environmental opportunities for the UK, the potential scale
of this bioeconomy and the role of Government. It is important
to note, however, that some waste has valid existing uses and
should not necessarily be diverted into a high value bioeconomy;
the spreading of manure to land, for example, is an important
way of returning nutrients to the soil.
We conclude that the economic and environmental opportunities
presented by exploiting carbon-containing waste as a resource
and feedstock are substantial. Companies in the UK are already
starting to exploit carbon-containing waste as a resource. We
heard, however, that measures could be taken both to remove barriers
and to facilitate the growth of this industry. The Government,
we conclude, is not sufficiently seized of the potential economic
prize for the UK. Waste policy is often framed in environmental
terms, and while we do not diminish environmental considerations,
it is the considerable economic benefits that we stress in this
report. The crucial point is that environmental and economic imperatives
need not be seen to be in conflict.
We argue in this report that a clear, long-term strategy
and stable policy environment is needed to encourage and stimulate
the waste-based bioeconomy. There is a lack of a clear lead within
Government, with responsibilities spread across several Government
departments, and inadequate coordination and cohesion. We therefore
recommend that a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation
and Skills (BIS) is given responsibility for the development of
a waste-based, high value bioeconomy. The Minister should be a
champion for waste as a resource and should coordinate activities
across Government. He or she should ensure that a long-term plan,
with at least a 15 year horizon, is produced in order to support
the development of a high value waste-based bioeconomy.
To this end, we heard evidence that access to waste
resources must be improved. This includes ensuring waste is collected
and treated in a way that maximises its value as a resource. Furthermore,
action is required to enable far greater understanding of waste
streams so that potential investors can easily obtain a clear
picture of how waste can be located and used efficiently.
Reducing the risk of investment in this emerging
industry is also essential. Pre-market demonstration facilities
are crucial in this regard, and open access facilities have been
installed in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult in Teesside
over the last two to four years. The Government should, however,
regularly review whether the UK has sufficient facilities to support
scale up and commercialisation.
1 Total waste managed in the UK in 2010 was 286 million
tonnes (Defra). Back
Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Back