Sam Pentony argues the government's upcoming Resource and Waste Strategy has to start at the top of waste hierarchy and make room for remanufacturing.
It's been a long time in the making but the government's long-awaited Resources and Waste Strategy is nearly upon us. In the last budget, we saw several tantalising fiscal announcements which were not entirely unexpected. A new plastic packaging tax and measures to extend producer responsibility are perhaps an indication of what the government's approach in the final strategy document might be.
Having said that, I think there has been very little attention paid by policy makers to an important part of the circular economy: reuse and remanufacture. This is a topic close to manufacturers' hearts and the UK has a strong history of remanufacturing to a 'good as new' and 'better than new' standard. There are excellent examples of this in the automotive and industrial sectors such as for remanufactured engines and plant equipment. This could, if not picked up quickly become a missed opportunity for the government to implement truly circular thinking into its resources policy.
Energy, carbon, and resource benefits
Discussions we've had to date on the Strategy have barely touched on remanufacturing, despite its potential to significantly reduce resource consumption. The potential benefits of remanufacture, both environmental and economic are huge. Compared with traditional manufacture, remanufacture produces equal quality products whilst using only 50 per cent of the energy and delivering a heavy carbon saving. Significantly, 85 per cent of the weight of remanufactured products can be from used components, therefore significantly reducing raw material consumption. There are well known examples such as car engines and construction equipment but also less obvious remanufacturing markets such as electrical transformers.
Despite these benefits, there are barriers to the growth of remanufacturing that I'd like to see the government address in its Strategy and in its broader industrial policy. Issues such as a lack of expertise and knowledge, particularly within SMEs, are a significant barrier. Importantly, there are also misconceptions amongst customers, particularly in the business to consumer market where concerns over 'quality' and 'second hand use' are prevalent.
Furthermore, there is ambiguity over the definition of remanufacturing which can often be the source of regulatory barriers. For instance, end-of-use or broken products might be legally defined as waste by some countries even if they are destined for refurbishment or remanufacture, disadvantaging them in international trade and potentially stopping them from being traded altogether. I recently spoke to an EEF member who told me this has particularly been the case with the market for end-of-life parts in China for their product group, with components classified as waste even if they are remanufactured products.
Chemicals regulation also creates a barrier because products that could potentially be remanufactured may contain substances that have since been restricted or reclassified. It is these kinds of issues that the European Commission is currently grappling with in its consideration of the overlap between chemicals, products and waste policy.
There's a clear role for the government here to champion British remanufacturing and to ensure where possible that remanufactured goods can be sold internationally. Whilst plastic and other waste will rightly feature heavily in the forthcoming Strategy, I hope that a significant additional element of the waste hierarchy is not ignored. After all, reducing waste and emissions through remanufacture is significant step towards creating a circular economy.
Sam Pentony is Environment Policy Adviser at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation