So just what is waste?
The home page on the Terra Infirma website proclaims “waste is a verb, not a noun”. This was a little catchphrase I dreamt up while facilitating Industrial Symbiosis brainstorming sessions. My intention was to get across the idea that most waste has an intrinsic value, but that we choose to waste it.
Unfortunately, out in the real world where environmental legislation applies, this is not the case. Legally, ‘waste’ is anything a company ‘discards or intends to discard’. Once it is designated ‘waste’, it will not stop being waste until it becomes part of a new product (but not an intermediate). This means that if you make plastic products and you want to buy some clean, pelletised recycled plastic to use as a raw material, you will need a waste management licence.
Even the builders of the ‘Brighton Earthship‘ building, made out of scrap tyres rammed with earth, had to get special permission from the Environment Agency, otherwise the building would be an illegal landfill…
The huge barrier that this puts in the way of recycling has been recognised. The Waste Protocols Project (WPP), run jointly by the Environment Agency and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), is developing standards for recovered product. If material meets the standard then it will no longer be waste and can be traded without further restriction.
In my opinion this process needs urgent accelerating if we are genuine about treating waste as a resource.
5pm Update: I’ve just heard via edie that Blast Furnace Slag (BFS) will no longer will classed as a waste but a by product. Three million tonnes of this material is produced annually in the UK and it can be used in all sorts of construction products. Very good news indeed.