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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

The wasteline: Redefining 'waste' and improving resource management policy

This briefing paper analyses the UK's waste policies to date, and recommends practical steps towards creating a cultural shift in the way we manage our resources and what we consider 'waste'.

Britain needs to radically rethink the way it manages its resources. We need to make a decisive departure from the linear approach, whereby we take resources such as food and metals from the natural environment, turn them into products, use them, and then dispose of what is left as 'waste'. Our approach to resources should instead be circular: one in which non-biological resources like metals are reused again and again, while biological resources such as food are reused as fully as possible before being returned to the Earth's ecosystem – for example, by composting the material rather than burning it.

This briefing paper is about that transition towards a better approach to resources. It is primarily concerned with analysing Britain's 'waste' policy to date, which has been a significant driver of cultural change in the UK. It reviews the available data on the flow of materials around the UK, discusses how improved data could support policy development, and identifies three strategic goals that policy must support:

  • a better understanding among business and government of how the UK's resources are used
  • a cultural and behavioural shift throughout society in favour of reusing materials
  • an end to the inefficient and polluting treatment of reusable and recyclable (or 'secondary') materials.

It also sets out practical recommendations for how we can move towards achieving these goals, including:

  • the establishment of an Office for Resource Management to both increase our understanding of the UK's materials and resources, and to facilitate cultural and behavioural change
  • lobbying the EU to amend the law that requires the labelling of foods with 'best before' dates, to make the only date-marking label mandated by law the 'use by' date which is a genuine food-safety issue
  • consideration by the Treasury of greater financial penalties for landfill disposal, and a consultation on the best means of reducing incineration, in the next parliament, once a balanced economic recovery has been established.