Balancing Resources Conference review

Sustainable Development Group
9 Dec 2019

Organised by the Resource Strategy Group (RSG) in conjunction with the Sustainable Development Group, IOM3 held the Balancing Resources Efficiency conference on 26 November 2019 in London. The conference highlighted four areas that require urgent attention to meet the UK Government’s two ambitious and long-term strategic objectives; namely the 25-year environmental action plan and a commitment for the UK to be zero net carbon by 2050.

Sessions covered product and process design for a low-carbon economy, life cycle perspectives in a circular economy, carbon capture scenarios and the UK resource and waste landscape with each session followed by a chaired panel discussion.Starting with an inspiring keynote from Dr Walter Stahel, Co-founder and Director of The Product-Life Institute and renowned key thinker of the circular economy and the founding father of the performance economy, where he highlighted that today’s objects are the resources of tomorrow at last year’s resource prices. A circular economy is about economics, and that waste managers have to become wealth preservation managers. In this respect, Walter foresees the need for closing liability loops by returning used goods and materials to their producer. Rent a molecule and license to mine will give corporations and mining nations long-term social and financial stability.

Key points from the other presentations were that carbon capture technology should have Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) applied to prove that a technology could contribute to the mitigation of environmental impacts and that Techno-Economic Assessment (TEA) will show how the technology could be competitively delivered in the market. Electric vehicle battery recycling/reuse is made more difficult due to the different cell and battery structures available. Second life could be utilised for energy storage but there is an urgent need for the design of battery systems to facilitate end of line management. A carbon-neutral UK has to take note that life expectancy has doubled and developing countries want to achieve the same level of affluence as the developed countries. CO2 concentration per million people is falling but the number of people is massively increasing.

Also discussed was feedstock recycling for plastics and the potential benefits of chemical pyrolysis of mixed plastic waste deposited in the consumer’s single collection bin and then processed to generate hydrocarbon feedstock for generation of new polymer. Packaging recycling was also a hot topic with the need for new commitments from the brand owners etc. to recycle more plastic, which requires 3 million tonnes more high-quality post-consumer recycling material by 2025. Mechanisms of materials collection and recycling must be updated and these changes must be science based and to note that biodegradable/compostable plastics have no pathway for recycling or recovery through collection. Developing an end of life and recycling infrastructure pointed out that the best of scenarios would only achieve a recycling rate of 59%. Significant additional capacity is required (but where?), particularly if the likely reduction in exports occurs in residual waste processing of all types.

The conclusions drawn together by RSG Chair, Professor Jeremy Ramsden who noted that IOM3 will have an expert role to play in discussions with the UK Government covering resource efficiency and climate change. Jeremy also noted that lifestyles will have to change to reduce waste. There was also doubt about the wisdom of committing transport to electric batteries when fuel cells appear to be a better long-term solution.

You can watch a video summary of the event via IOM3TV.

Stuart Patrick, IOM3 Sustainable Development Group.