Pomp and pageantry or heritage and history, the Queen’s Speech can be seen as either superbly chic or totally anachronistic. Nik Spencer, creator of the Home Energy Recovery Unit (HERU), believes that one thing is clear. Regardless of taste, the performance perfectly testifies to the difficulties of our current predicament.
This year’s recital (21 June) has seen critics ridiculing the monumental task of navigating Brexit and a clear lack of government leadership. Much commentary over the past week, for example, has focused on the Repeal Bill – which aims to ensure a smooth transition in UK law by retaining all relevant EU policy – a task on its own capable of swallowing the totality of government resource for the next two years.
All in all, therefore, not the confidence and clarity needed in a time of political uncertainty. For the general public, yet more confusion. For UK industry, we remain in a state of indecision and flux. However, despite posing more questions than it answered, the opportunity is there to break through the confusion of Brexit and help to reshape priorities.
Taking the sustainability gauntlet
It’s no surprise that sustainability and waste management are not considered top of the agenda issues. Placing too much in the top of the funnel means some priorities will inevitably fall out.
However, this apparent political disinterest belies the fact that the UK is perceived as a global leader when it comes to renewable technology and green innovation. In spite of the vote to exit the EU last year, we’re still working towards stringent targets for renewable energy production – which include obtaining 30% of all energy from sustainable sources by 2020.
Irrespective of Brexit, I believe we should continue our drive towards these targets – there are so many economic and environmental benefits on offer. This said, for the UK to move in the right direction, it’s clear that continued investment is needed.
By way of example, my product – The HERU – demonstrates what can be achieved with the right level of government support. We designed it as an innovative solution to household waste, capable of converting refuse (food, paper, bones, nappies, etc.) into a clean fuel source, which is used to heat water for the home.
Earlier this year, HERU was awarded support by the government’s Innovate Energy Game Changer fund. This investment played a crucial role in helping finance further development and trials of the technology, which has ultimately taken it a step closer to production. We would not have been in our current situation if it was not for this support.
A wasted opportunity?
While financial backing is key, I’d also like to see the government re-evaluate the way in which it approaches waste – understanding its inherent value and how it can best be utilised.
Looking at a more grassroots level, I’d urge the government to ensure that local councils pass producer responsibility for waste and recyclables onto households, encouraging them to become more accountable and responsible for what they put in their recycling bin. If waste is properly separated, local authorities can ensure potentially valuable recyclables aren’t contaminated, improving recycling quality and also allowing them to be usable in the export market.
Another crucial consideration is that the UK simply does not have the ability to process anywhere near the amount of recyclable material produced. Requirements for the quality of exportable recyclables are continually changing, the responsibility to meet the continual changes has to be placed on the supply chain, so the government needs to have a clear understanding of this from the outset.
With the potential freedom Brexit provides, there’s real potential for the UK to become a hub of innovation excellence when it comes to sustainable technology. But it will need sustained governmental support in the form of legislation, decreased red-tape, financial incentives and training of engineers in the resource management sector if it is to come to fruition. It’s vitally important to remember that recycling isn’t just the responsibility of waste management companies – we need engagement from the entire supply chain, from manufacturers to households, if we are to make the best of these opportunities.
While the Queen’s Speech may have failed to demonstrate a clear path forward for the new government, it highlighted the need for collaboration, leadership from industry and continued innovation. The coming months will undoubtedly be an interesting journey, both for sustainability and the wider economy. We need to work together in order to achieve a smooth transition out of the EU.