Think global and act local – Scotland’s test case

Readers of this blog will surely know by now that I am all for a free economy and for non-restraint of trade: If, for example, some Scottish diners want to keep on reinventing local food traditions – deep-fried Mars bars at the local chippy – who am I, indeed who is anyone else to question the process.It’s a matter of consumer choice and consumer responsibility, another issue close to my heart.

But if, say, the Scottish Government should take up an enabling role; helping to trade-mark and export market the snack and define its proper specifications and then only permit Scottish-produced batter and Scottish-made Mars bars into the product mix – then we are clearly into some different territory.

Nearer to home, and back in July of this year I highlighted the Scottish Government’s consultation on the future of that country’s waste management; in particular, the suggestion of a differentiated Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system for Scotland. The deadline for this response is 28th September and the Packaging Federation has already made its contribution to the debate.

It is right and proper that Scotland is putting clarity, direction and energy behind its process of governance – including the governance of waste management. Certain parts of Westminster today could do much worse – both for the quality of the consultation and for the matters raised.

It is also good that Scotland – in tandem with many leading recyclers and industrialists – now sees resources where it used to see ‘waste’. However a differentiated PRN system for Scotland is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice.

I have no need to rehearse protectionist arguments here: My main point is that today’s challenges of resource efficiency and material flows are evidently a global challenge not a Scottish one. To think otherwise is to invite chaos. Much of what is sold in Scotland is manufactured elsewhere and vice versa; including the importing and exporting of waste from within and without the United Kingdom.

Consequently, action which may be taken to specifically safeguard resources for the Scottish economy will fly in the face of the on-the-ground realities of material usage. Such intervention will then result in additional costs to businesses within Scotland and will carry no net benefit to the overall Scottish economy. Action taken to maximise the efficiency of material usage and the reuse of material at “end of life” is to be wholly commended but only as part of a coordinated policy within the UK as a whole.

The Scottish Government may be nurturing an idea that a bespoke system of waste administration may differentiate Scotland in a positive manner and may earn it a top spot in the league of recycling nations. In truth, this is a chimera. There is no such advantage and no such league. The realities of resource management are increasingly global. ‘Muck and Brass’, as it used to be, generally succeeds in finding its own level. In today’s parlance, ‘closed loop’ schemes and carbon footprints don’t care about origin or destination as long as the lowest and optimal numbers are reached.

The Scottish Government has already taken considerable steps to facilitate increased collection rates and recycling quality. These should now be allowed to proceed without further costly changes to the system.

The Packaging Federation believes that recycling success will be driven by unlocking the value of collected materials and by engagement of Scottish consumers. The impact of these is many times greater than the non-existent benefits from changing the existing PRN system. We hope that the Scottish Government takes the same view.

Many thanks

Dick Searle

Resource protection – clearer Government action needed

For some time now it has been clear that industry and environmentalists are as one voice in a common need to protect and conserve precious material resources, at home and abroad.

A number of us – including ourselves, Friends of the Earth and the Engineering Employers Federation – said as much this month in an open communication to the Government’s business and environmental departments as represented by Vince Cable and Caroline Spellman.

Our letter made it clear that we are alarmed by the level of material waste in the UK –and by the apparent lack of a plan: The UK’s Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) currently sees 80% of management identifying limited access to raw materials as a business threat. For one in three of these firms it is seen as their primary risk and threat to growth. 

Global concerns about food security and water security can now therefore add materials security to the growing list. Current times see commodity prices surging and alarm steadily rising about shortages of key materials.

Needless to say, in all these matters of security of goods, packaging and packaging technology offers the hope of relief together with a net environmental benefit. However, all of us need to be coordinated and pointed in the right direction. And while the Government’s Resource Security Action Plan is a good first move we need something more.  

We believe that the UK needs the creation of an Office of Resource Management. This firstly in order to spearhead a much needed Government approach to resource efficiency. Second, we need to get the Government and its departments away from an outmoded obsession about “waste” and “waste management”.  These issues are still being passed around to little effect between too many departments and sectional interests – Defra, BIS, DECC and DCLG, to name but four!

UK manufacturing industry meantime is already trying to get on the front foot; use waste-as-a-resource and protect all materials sources for future production. Our Government should be thinking and acting the same way.

I therefore hope that our proposed Office of Resource Management takes shape. We need a coordinated and dynamic response to this materials scarcity problem – and soon.

Many thanks again

Dick Searle