One of the strengths of the UK’s waste and recycling market has always been its ability to innovate and realise the commercial and environmental benefits of the resources for which it is responsible.
A significant proportion of this innovation comes from smaller local and regional operators. Such businesses are able to use innovation to differentiate and carve out a sustainable position in the market. The understanding that they need to do something different results in them often being far less constrained than the corporates when it comes to the development of new technology or services.
But we fear that the UK is heading towards a situation where the market will no longer be able to support these vital businesses. Recent economic uncertainty and movement in materials markets has led to an even greater focus on price. A decision to purchase a waste and recycling service based solely on price makes the business case for investment in developing new technologies or services more challenging.
Another challenge comes from the increased level of consolidation in the market. Businesses are becoming undervalued and, as a result, national operators are looking for acquisitions to bolster their market share. This reduces the number of local businesses that were willing to try something new and cuts off the lifeline of technology innovators.
Ultimately this situation is going to slow the rate at which we develop our resource management capability and, in the mid to long term, could create a very ‘vanilla’ service offering.
There is no doubt that a one-size-fits-all approach – while beneficial for certain waste managers – will do little to support their customers or the UK’s overall environmental performance. We must remember that most technologies come with a premium at the outset but provide value through their lifecycle as it becomes the market standard.
The strength of our supply chain provides value for waste producers and ensures that we can continue to move towards a resource efficient and circular economy. The industry must work to provide a supportive environment in which these businesses can innovate and flourish.
Chris Giscombe is (WMBA) chair