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Waste and resources sector worth £41bn to economy

New research from DEFRA indicates that waste management and resource efficiency activity contributed up to £41 billion to the economy in 2013, supporting some 670,000 jobs.

New research from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) indicates that waste management and resource efficiency activity contributed up to £41 billion to the economy in 2013, supporting some 670,000 jobs.

DEFRA’s report, Resource management: a catalyst for growth and productivity, analyses the contribution of resource and waste management to economic growth, finding that “significant opportunities remain" for businesses and the wider economy to increase resource efficiency by adopting re-use, repair and remanufacture schemes to boost income.

Waste sector

According to the report, the UK’s waste sector generated nearly £6.8 billion to the economy in 2013, supporting more than 100,000 jobs. 

Notably, the value reclaimed from waste has increased markedly in recent years, rising from £32 per tonne in 2004 to £43 in 2012 despite less waste being generated. The report suggests that several billions of pounds are being recovered, with dry recyclables from household waste worth up to £0.5 billion in 2012 alone. 

‘Potential being lost’

The report also notes that the UK has a significant net positive trade balance in recyclables, having exported 13 million tonnes of recovered metal, paper, plastics and textiles in 2013, worth £4.35 billion. 

However, Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the Resource Association, argued that the size of exports showed that the potential of the sector to recover materials domestically was being underestimated.

“UK export of recyclables is undoubtedly a British success story…but also means that in some instances potential to add value to product is being lost to overseas manufacturers”, he said.

“Even if a quarter of the £4.25 billion worth of materials exported in 2013 were to be re-shored in UK manufacturing, this could add at least £5 billion to UK GDP.”

Resource efficiency

By extending the scope of the waste sector to include repair, re-use and leasing, DEFRA estimates that its contribution to the UK economy in 2013 stood at £41 billion.

Furthermore, the report points to falling levels of material consumption per unit of GDP as an indication that resource efficiency is increasing across the UK, and also estimates that improvements will add a further £3.58 billion to the economy by 2020.    

‘Massive opportunity’

Dan Rogerson, parliamentary under-secretary for water, forestry, rural affairs and resource management, said: “This analysis shows there is a massive opportunity for businesses to make money from repairing, re-using and remanufacturing equipment to extend the life of products.

“Using our resources more carefully is not only good for the environment, it’s also vital to build a stronger economy.”

Future vision

DEFRA’s future plans to capture more economic opportunity from the waste and resource sector include:

  • Developing a ‘bioeconomy roadmap’ to explore how biotechnologies can extract more value from waste
  • Helping businesses to reduce costs and generate revenue from their waste through better regulation
  • Raising awareness of global export opportunities for waste and resource management solutions
  • Exploring the drivers of value creation throughout the ‘waste hierarchy’ and how these are likely to change over time.