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RWM Birmingham Roundup 2015

The 15th – 17th September this year marked the 47th annual RWM event at the NEC in Birmingham. The only trade show of its kind- aimed at the waste management sector, local authorities and retailers- RWM housed exhibitors from recyclers and reprocessing, professional services, energy from waste, handling and logistics, equipment and machinery and UK Trade and Investment.

Accompanying the 700 stands was a comprehensive programme of talks. These included a keynote speech from Dr. Liz Goodwin, CEO of WRAP, a video keynote from Rory Stewart MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs, DEFRA and a discussion panel about incentivising businesses to better manage their food waste. On the food discussion panel were Mark Varney, director of FareShare, Alice Ellison, Environmental Policy Advisor for the British Retail Consortium and Mark Linehan, Managing Director for the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA).

The talks covered a whole range of topics. Dr. Liz Goodwin told us how the UK is demonstrating the circular economy in action, creating opportunities for replicating successes in Europe and beyond. Her speech centred on a case study of a gadget swap scheme at Argos that WRAP collaborated on. The scheme sees customers bringing in their unwanted gadgets and receiving an on the spot quote for in-store credit; if they go ahead with the swap, they receive an Argos voucher in return.

The video keynote with Rory Stewart highlighted the need for consistent messaging and collection methods for household and business collections, to avoid confusion. Whilst WRAP does have guidelines in place for colour schemes and collection methods, there is still a huge variety in the models adopted by local authorities and trade waste collectors across the UK, which is often cited as a barrier to improving recycling rates.

Finally, the panel discussing how best to encourage business to manage their food waste had three industry leaders who were able to provide a balanced view of the situation in their respective sectors. Mark Varney, director of FareShare, bought our attention to the little known food waste hierarchy. He also raised the issue of terminology, in that we often refer to perfectly edible food as “food waste”; to help think of it as a resource, we should simply be calling it food. Mark Linehan, MD of the SRA, pointed out that the term “unavoidable food waste” is often used to describe plate waste, which, by definition, can be avoided, by reducing portion sizes, for example. Alice Ellison, from the British Retail Consortium, shared with us research which indicates supermarkets are only responsible for 3% of the food wasted in the UK, the largest proportions of food being disposed of as waste comes from households, food manufacturers and to a smaller extent the hospitality industry. Increasingly, supermarkets are providing recipes to help use up food and giving clearer instructions on storage. Overall the debate summarised the current actions being taken by businesses, across all sectors, to reduce food waste in the UK, but sent a clear message that there is more work to be done, to work food up the food waste hierarchy.

This year’s RWM event was another success and we’ll be very much looking forward to attending next year.

Emily Morrey-McGrath

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