The Material Formerly Known as Waste

Waste or Resource?

I read a great new phrase today describing discarded goods – “the material formerly known as waste” and it got me thinking about how the waste landscape is changing and evolving and how key the terminology of these changes may prove to be.

Whilst a pleasant phrase that brought a smile to my face, it is obviously not a term for the future. If the material was formerly waste, what term will be used moving forward?

I read a great new phrase today describing discarded goods – “the material formerly known as waste” and it got me thinking about how the waste landscape is changing and evolving and how key the terminology of these changes may prove to be.

Whilst a pleasant phrased that brought a smile to my face it is obviously not a term for the future, if the material was formerly waste what term will be used moving forward? Undoubtedly we have already begun discussions surrounding resource revolutions and we have witnessed instances where waste is already considered a resource. As we move into a world of circular economy and secondary raw materials how will our language change? When do materials stop becoming waste but a second/third or fourth life material?

There has been a growing question mark as to whether the reference to waste is still relevant and actually describes the modern context of the activity of recovering resources from the materials we discard. Whilst waste does still exist it is the ultimate ambition that all discarded items will be reused in some form and the linear approach of production – use – disposal will be firmly discarded. Whilst a zero waste society is a long way off, steps are already being taken to set up circular resource models and language will need to reflect these changes. Perhaps these will help us to reach up the waste hierarchy and drive the shift to a cradle to cradle culture. Would changes to terminology help us to achieve greater recovery of resources?

A greater number of people are turning to resource titles but will this resonate or confuse the public when it comes to sorting for kerbside collections?

According to Mike Tregent, Chartered Environmentalist working in waste and resource management: “If material is being collected for onward treatment, then we should at least try to describe that step, as it will help indicate that a process of transformation is being undertaken. If we are happy to call thermal treatment (in its many guises) energy-from-waste (EfW), why can we not describe materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and mechanical biological treatment plants (MBT), as waste-to-resource facilities (WtR)?

I’m sure that the public would understand these terms and relate them to a process akin to rehabilitation of their discarded resources. I do not believe that an over simplification of the language helps the cause, in fact it could even lead people to be suspicious that something is being hidden from them.”

Here at Recipro we see this issue repeated time and time again.  We deal with surplus building materials, which are not classed as a waste but as a resource.  These building materials are repatriated and reused elsewhere – keeping them out of the waste stream altogether!  However, we regularly hear these materials referred to as a waste, or our activities as ‘recycling’, which is a process carried out with waste material.

Whilst in some respects this debate may seem trivial, the need for understanding and engagement could be helped or hindered by the language of the communication used by this sector. It’s certainly going to provoke thought and I can see this issue being debated completely before we settle on a new terminology for the future of the material formerly known as waste!

 

 

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