Waste not, want not

8th June 2007
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What is waste? In the natural world, the answer is nothing. In human society, the answer is whatever happens to be classified as waste.

To this end, the Environment Agency and the government's Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) have announced that millions of tonnes of materials could be turned from waste into valuable natural resources by simply changing their official categorisation.

Following a trial last year, in which a certain type of compost was reclassified from being 'waste' to a raw material, the Environment Agency and WRAP are proposing to redesignate steel slag, gypsum, incinerator ash, paper mill ash, and removed top soil.

Steel slag, paper mill ash and incinerator ash can be reused as valuable building materials; gypsum can simply be reconstituted into new plasterboard; and top soil removed from greenfield development sites can be moved to gardens, parks, golf courses or football pitches.

Redesignating these materials will save money because costly 'waste handling licenses' can be abandoned. The Environment Agency estimates that it costs industry some £150 million every year simply to landfill the materials listed above. By doing away with the 'waste' classification, the products also become more attractive to end buyers.

WRAP's Director of Organics, Dr. Richard Swannell, said that the work was the result of a 'collaborative approach':
'The five wastes we have announced today will go some way in helping reduce the amount of waste disposed in landfills every year as well as helping to create valuable products.'

This article first appeared in the Ecologist June 2007

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