Dutch government lays RDF tax proposals

Proposals to tax the import of waste into the Netherlands have been laid before the country’s parliament this week.

The tax is part of a package of measures to address climate change and is expected to increase the cost of residual waste treatment for local authorities and businesses from the UK who use incineration plants in the Netherlands to dispose of waste.

King Willem Alexander (right) opened the Dutch Parliament in the Hague yesterday (17 September). He is pictured arriving at the Parliament with his wife Queen Máxima. (Picture: fotografiekb / Shutterstock.com)

Legislation to introduce a tax on foreign waste was among a host of measures put before the parliament during the Prinsjesdag (Prince’s Day) opening of the Dutch Senate and House of Representatives yesterday (17 September).

During Prinsjesdag, the country’s monarch, Willem Alexander, sets out the government’s key policy proposals for the coming parliament, and a budget is presented to elected representatives.

Documents published on the government’s tax proposals yesterday indicate that around 1.9 million tonnes of ‘foreign’ waste is incinerated in Holland’s energy from waste facilities, roughly 25% of the country’s overall capacity, including a large proportion from the UK.

Taxation

A tax on the incineration of domestically produced waste has existed in the Netherlands since 2015, and the new tax on waste sourced from outside of the country, which will be implemented from January 2020, will see this applied across all waste handled in the country. This stands at around €32 per tonne.

In its explanatory document setting out the measures, the Dutch government stated: “Taxing waste materials that have been transferred to the Netherlands for incineration creates an incentive to better sort these waste materials or to process them more efficiently.

“Waste that is incinerated or dumped in the Netherlands will be taxed in the same way, regardless of whether these waste [sic] originated in the Netherlands or were shipped to the Netherlands. The government expects that this measure will reduce the amount of waste shipped that is incinerated in the Netherlands.

“The government expects that this measure will reduce the amount of waste shipped that is incinerated in the Netherlands.”

Dutch Government

“This is expected to lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions in the Netherlands, even if a correction is made for an increase in alternative ways of generating electricity and heat to compensate for decreased production of electricity and heat in waste incineration plants.”

Export market

The Netherlands is the largest market for the material from the UK taking in more than one million tonnes a year and exporters have claimed that the proposal has the potential to wipe out the trade to Holland.

Members of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the legislation and some proposals could be amended or even dropped.

The tax has already prompted lobbying from both the UK and organisations in the Netherlands, who argue that the measure could see more waste landfilled if it is not economically viable to export for incineration, which could, in turn, lead to higher CO2 emissions.


ENA kicks off £70 million hunt for electricity network innovations

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

The NIC, run by industry regulator Ofgem, will see applicant companies collaborate with distribution network operators (DNOs) to develop joint bids for £70 million pot of funding for electricity network projects.

A further £20 million pot has been made available for gas network projects, however cross-vector bids – taking aim at the whole system – could potentially access both pots of funding, the ENA said.

The NIC is an annual competition borne from the networks’ intent to bring forward new technologies which hold the potential to reduce operating costs and translate them into business as usual activities.

Projects must deliver a clear cost benefit to the public, reduce the overall cost of running energy networks, provide environmental benefits and demonstrate genuine innovation. Priority areas will also need to be met, as outlined in the Gas and Electricity Network Innovation Strategies.

These priorities include planning and forecasting, pricing and settlement, network resilience, communications and data management, decarbonisation of heat, energy flexibility, community energy and vulnerable customers.

Previous winners of the NIC includes the OpenLV project, which has enabled greater access to local network electricity demand data.

The ENA has today (16 September 2019) opened the Call for Ideas, which closes on 8 November 2019.

David Smith, chief executive at the ENA, said the energy sector needs to be “relentless” in its focus on innovation to deliver progress towards the country’s now binding net zero target.

“Private enterprise is key to delivering network innovation which is vital to help keep energy bills down for the public, while delivering a smarter, cleaner and more flexible energy system that serves the country. This is an exciting chance for innovators to deliver projects that will make a real difference to the way networks operate in communities up and down the country. We want to hear from the widest range of energy innovators as possible to help deliver that,” he said.

More details on the Call for Ideas and how to enter can be found on the ENA’s NIC portal.


Power sector seeking expedited blackout system security and embedded generation reviews

Image: Ofgem.

Image: Ofgem.

The UK’s power sector is seeking an expedited process to any review of system security standards and pleaded with Ofgem to take seriously concerns over how embedded generation is disconnected during frequency events.

Yesterday National Grid ESO published its final technical report into the 9 August blackout, providing more detail into the root causes of the incident and recommended a number of reviews into both a possible increase in the level of reserve capacity required in the UK and potential amendments to embedded generation disconnection protocols.

Anesco chairman Steve Shine said that while his company welcomed National Grid ESO’s recommendation of reviews of infrastructure, resilience and embedded generation, it stressed that such reviews were “urgently needed” and should be expedited.

“The fact remains that our national grid is vulnerable to power cuts and is getting more vulnerable by the year. Any review must take place quickly and have the full involvement of the wider industry and not be taken as an opportunity to kick the issue into the long grass.

"It is still clear that National Grid was aware that frequency would fall outside of limits, and with more fast response battery storage on the network, this power cut could have been prevented. For that reason National Grid should urgently take action to encourage the building of more energy storage to support the UK’s energy security,” he said.

Thom Whiffen, product manager at smart energy tech firm geo, said that homes with connected batteries could have saved the system if they were coupled to a smart demand-side response network built upon real-time data and connected systems. Failure to implement such systems could lead such incidents to become a more regular event in the future, he warned.

Richard Black, director at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said that there was still a lack of clarity surrounding three consecutive trips at RWE’s Little Barford CCGT – clarity which may be forthcoming in subsequent reports into the incident – but also noted the report’s findings on how embedded generation tripped out automatically.

This, the technical report concludes, was as a result of oversensitive sensors which Black said the industry has been aware of for “at least 10 years”.

National Grid ESO’s final report includes in its appendices responses to a number of preliminary questions from the Energy Emergencies Executive Committee (E3C), one of which centred on whether or not relevant lessons from previous incidents – chiefly the 2008 power cut – had been properly limited.

One of those recommendations was that inadequate frequency range settings on embedded generation plant should be modified to improve their resilience to frequency events. Simply put, it was suggested that embedded generators should be allowed to operate as normal during frequency events wherever reasonably practicable.

The ESO’s response to the E3C stresses that changes to Issue 2 of G59 codes included amendments to the settings of frequency protection to distributed generation, and that it was required for these changes to be applied retrospectively for distributed generation in the range of 5 – 50MW, which amounted to around 4GW at the time.

Regular progress reports to the Distribution Code Review Panel showed that this action was implemented, but the remaining volume of distributed generation was deemed “immaterial” given the effort required to make those changes. As a result, the issue does not stand to be corrected until 2022.

Black notes that it would have been Ofgem’s final responsibility, as the industry regulator, for this fault to be allowed to persist.

“It’ll be interesting to see whether MPs or any other body decide to look into the regulator’s apparent lack of interest in the issue,” he said.

National Grid was, however, praised for how it had identified the root cause of the events, and how it had already mooted several possible steps to respond to future needs.

Marc Borrett, CEO at Reactive Technologies, which recently landed a contract with the ESO to start measuring inertia on the electricity system, described the move as a “clear example” of National Grid’s use of new innovations to improve system reliability.

“By working with Reactive to directly measure inertia in order to enhance operational decision-making, National Grid ESO is at the forefront of addressing the kinds of challenges all system operators around the world will face as the necessary transition to renewables continues to transform our grids,” he added.


OVO seals £500 million swoop for SSE supply division

Image: Ovo.

Image: Ovo.

OVO Energy is to acquire SSE’s energy supply division in a £500 million deal.

The transaction, which comprises £400 million in cash and an additional £100 million in loan notes, is to complete either later this year or early next pending regulatory approvals.

If the deal completes as expected, OVO would become the second-largest energy supply company in the UK with in excess of 6.7 million customers, second only to Centrica's British Gas unit.

Stephen Fitzpatrick, chief executive and founder at OVO, said the deal marked a “significant moment for the energy industry”.

“Advances in technology, the falling cost of renewable energy and battery storage, the explosion of data and the urgent need to decarbonise are completely transforming the global energy system.

“For the past three years OVO has been investing heavily in scalable operating platforms, smart data capabilities and connected home services, ensuring we’re well positioned to grow and take advantage of new opportunities in a changing market.

“SSE and OVO are a great fit. They share our values on sustainability and serving customers. They’ve built an excellent team that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

It marks SSE’s withdrawal from a UK supply market it has been attempting to retract from for some time. The company was originally intending to spin-off the division and merge it with innogy’s npower, only to see that deal fall through when Ofgem’s price cap moved the financial goalposts too far for either firm to commit.

SSE was then vocal about its ambition to move the division on, either via a straight sale or spin-off and de-listing. Last month SSE confirmed industry rumours that it was in discussions with OVO, but stressed no deal had yet been agreed.

Confirming the agreement to the market this morning, SSE said it would do all it can to ensure a smooth transition for both customers and employees in the event of a successful completion.

“We have long believed that a dedicated, focused and independent retailer will ultimately best serve customers, employees and other stakeholders – and this is an excellent opportunity to make that happen.

“OVO shares our relentless focus on customer service and has a bold vision for how technology can reshape the future of the industry. I’m confident that this is the best outcome for the SSE Energy Services business,” Alistair Phillips-Davies, chief executive at SSE, said.


Analysis: Liam Stoker, editor in chief, Current±

This kind of transaction has been a long time coming for OVO Group, a company firmly on many in the industry’s radar for a while now. Stephen Fitzpatrick’s ambition has been matched by OVO’s meteoric growth and, now, the company is no longer punching up at the Big Six but sits alongside them.

How OVO handles that transition from challenger to mammoth will be of utmost importance. It’s difficult to undersell the task at hand, given that OVO’s customer base will effectively increase six-fold in such a short space of time. That transitional services agreement in the contract could prove a smart move, but many companies before OVO have mishandled similar transitions and paid the price.

And let’s not forget, in acquiring SSE OVO is still bringing in a company that isn’t exactly in the rudest of health. This is a company that in February issued a profit warning amidst Capacity Market woes and just three months later was eyeing up 400 redundancies. While it's not as bad as the npower’s of this sector, when you also consider just how difficult other large incumbents have found the energy retail market in the last few months, OVO will have plenty of thinking to do.

OVO has indeed been on the industry’s radar for some time. That won’t change with this acquisition, but it may be for different reasons.


SSE further said it would use the cash proceeds from the deal to reduce the company’s net debt, however, £59 million is to be deducted from the total cash consideration owed to SEE to reflect SSE Energy Services’ debt items, including accruals in respect of payments owed under the still-suspended Capacity Market mechanism.

All of SSE’s ~8,000 employees will now transfer to OVO, and both firms have agreed upon a transitional services agreement which will see SSE provide certain services to OVO throughout a post-transaction period.

The two firms have also agreed a brand licensing agreement, which will see the SSE brand remain active in the energy supply market while it is being migrated to OVO ownership


£35 billion investment needed for “radical” waste sector transition

Making the most of waste and secondary resources over the next 20-30 years will require investment of up to thirty-five billion pounds, according to a report published today by SUEZ, which explores the current and future economic outlook for the resources and waste sector.

The report, entitled “The Economics of Change in the Resources and Waste Sector”, provides an analysis of the current economic drivers in the sector and goes on to explore how future environmental policy target metrics related to CO2, natural capital and biodiversity will necessitate substantial additional investment.

Among the new cost drivers in the next twenty years will be the need to invest in new technologies and facilities capable of converting residual waste not just into electrical energy, but fuel and chemical molecules too; to overhaul logistics and container infrastructure; collect new or niche material streams, such as flexible packaging; develop new data collection and analytics systems; and invest in education and behavioural change communications campaigns.

The report provides a breakdown of the cost and value drivers in the current resources and waste management landscape – such as the proportion of costs for various waste management activities within council budgets and comparators in costs between England and the devolved administrations.

The coming transition over the next twenty years will be even more radical, and will require accelerated investment more than three times greater than that made over the past decade or so

The report will be formally launched by SUEZ at the RWM with CIWM Exhibition in Birmingham on Thursday 12 September at 13.15 in the Circular Economy Connect Theatre.

CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, David Palmer-Jones said: “The resources and waste sector has seen massive change over the past decade, and actors in our sector have invested more than ten billion in the transition away from landfill, moving waste materials further up the waste hierarchy.

“However, SUEZ believes, as is set out in this short report, that the coming transition over the next twenty years will be even more radical, and will require accelerated investment more than three times greater than that made over the past decade or so.

“The money flows and economics of future resource management systems will be fundamentally different to today, in support of new objectives and through new participants in the sector, drawn in by new legislation and regulation.

“The weight-based metrics we have used to date have taken us so far, and resulted in more sustainable practices as material has shifted away from landfill, but new more sophisticated metrics, seeking to directly address the major environmental challenges of our time – climate change and the loss of biodiversity and natural capital – will change the game significantly. Full net Cost Recovery producer responsibility and new methods of harvesting materials, like deposit return schemes, will change revenue and material flows and will require new consumer behaviours – which we know from the last decade of recycling, are not easily or quickly changed.

We welcome the challenge though and, with the support of Government, through transparent, consistent, and ambitious policy, there is no reason why the sector cannot deliver the investment, skills and technologies required for a more sustainable future.”


The Big Business Plastics Debate (Part Two): How can we create a 'ripple effect' of change?

4 June 2019, source edie newsroom

In the second of our two-part feature from the Big Plastics Debate at edie Live 2019, we move the conversation on to explore how businesses and policymakers can harness the momentum of environmental campaigns and protests to drive a new 'social norm' around plastics.

It does appear that we’re entering an era where a single lightning rod moment can spark global change

It does appear that we’re entering an era where a single lightning rod moment can spark global change

As the first part of this feature concluded, the global shift away from single-use plastics is already beginning to have an undeniable impact on society. Plastic straws, stirrers, cotton buds, cups, bags and bottles are all on the way out, offering a glimpse at how our current linear economy is shifting to a closed-loop, resource-efficient model. Workplaces are being transformed into ‘single-use-plastic-free’ spaces, driven by staff understanding the simple steps that they can make as individuals to reduce their plastics impact.

---READ PART ONE OF THE BIG PLASTICS DEBATE HERE---

The Bank of England is a prime example. The organisation’s head of corporate sustainability and responsibility Charles Joly has witnessed an internal change that has seen an 80% reduction in plastic item use, a difference of around two million items annually. More than 500,000 plastic coffee cups have been replaced at water fountains and internal “Green Champions” now challenge colleagues to swap out disposable items.

For Joly, a key way for any business to reduce its reliance on plastics is to integrate that view as part of a way of life for staff.

“Viewing plastics differently is now integrated into our culture,” Joly explained. “People were bringing disposable cups and bottles to meetings. Now, we can put 15 people around the table and instantly see that re-use has become the new norm in the business... advocates are waking up and taking ownership across different areas of the business. Integration is the Holy Grail.”

To achieve this Holy Grail, Joly believes communication is a vital way of “getting people used to the new world” to “open a new train of thought about new areas of resource efficiency”.

Inspirational business

Turning from the world of banking to telecoms, Sky has emerged as one of the leaders when it comes to inspiring widescale change regarding resource efficiency, both across its supply chain and amongst the wider public.

The Sky Ocean Rescue campaign's engagement stats are nothing short of remarkable: more than 33.5 million people have so far interacted with Sky Ocean Rescue across its core markets, with more than a million people engaging with Sky’s #PassOnPlastic campaign on Twitter. The broadcaster has also used its influence in the sporting world to drive the agenda to a market that is considered hard-to-reach for topics like environmental stewardship. By partnering with the Kia Oval cricket stadium, Sky was able to hand out 20,000 limited-edition re-usable bottles during the England cricket team’s match against South Africa in July 2017.

Elsewhere, Sky worked with the Premier League to commit to eliminating single-use plastics from the organisation by 2020, whilst encouraging football clubs and fans across the country to stop using certain plastics. The broadcaster announced that all single-use plastics will be removed from its products, operations and supply chain by 2020 and that it will also invest £25m into an Ocean Rescue Innovation Fund to develop remedies to the amount of waste seeping into oceans.

For Sky’s head of inspirational business and Sky Ocean Rescue, Fiona Ball, businesses should look to create a “ripple effect” by engaging other companies and consumers on plastics in a way that could eventually shift entire markets away from single-use.

“The greatest opportunity that business has is to see who else you can engage around this particular issue,” Ball said. “Take responsibility for the products you put out on the market, only in that way you will have a ‘circular economy’ approach to market products. It’s a reputational issue as well to continue doing something we know is irresponsible, so from a brand-value perception, things should start changing as well.”

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Social norms

Whether the plastics debate can be used as a gateway to improve understanding on other sustainability issues is another discussion entirely (incidentally, ZSL’s Fiona Llewellyn and Waitrose’s Tor Harris from the first part of this discussion believe it can act as one). But it does appear that we’re entering an era where a single lightning rod moment can spark global change.

Environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage’s chief executive Hugo Tagholm noted that the Blue Planet series that ignited the current wave of action on plastics dedicated just 14 minutes of airtime to plastics pollution. In a similar fashion, it took just one speech from a 16-year old schoolchild to kickstart the ongoing wave of climate youth strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests, which have opened eyes on the wider climate battle. The climate strikes have echoed across Parliament halls and it looks increasingly likely that the UK will enshrine a net-zero carbon target into law in the near future.

Tagholm is a firm believer that policymakers must also drive change to combat plastics pollution and push the nation towards a closed-loop economy.

“It took 14 minutes to change how industry considers its approach to plastics, how government is legislating and how NGOs and broadcasters have responded to the plastic crisis,” Tagholm said. “The plastic crisis is now, the plastic emergency is now, and we need radical solutions within the established business community.

“Change often relies on Westminster – it’s the place where legislation can incentivise and penalise industry for doing the right or the wrong thing. People need a new plastic eco-system where plastic is trapped in the economy rather than the environment.”

Carrot and stick

Indeed, speakers from across both of our Big Plastics Debate sessions highlighted the importance of legislation in order to set the precedent on how business and society should consume plastics. A deposit-return scheme for plastic bottles, for example, could reduce one-third of UK plastic seeping into the oceans, according to the think tank Green Alliance.

Bank of England’s Joly claimed that any new way of consuming or disposing of plastic will come with a “grief period” but the business and policymakers alike can bridge these issues through clear communication. BaxterStorey’s Hanson, meanwhile, reiterated that legislation is required to spur action, especially in sectors where action is too slow.

“We need legislation and you need the carrot and the stick,” Hanson said. “The stick is generally more effective.”

For ZSL’s Llewellyn, the end goal for an organisation should be to create an environment where a resource efficient economy is the “new norm”, to the point that people won’t be fatigued by the conversation on plastics, especially regarding the trade-offs and uses. “I think success would look like all of us not having to talk about this,” Llewellyn said. “It is fundamentally about changing our relationship with plastic and creating a new norm where we don’t abuse it and that it becomes so ingrained that it would be ludicrous to throwaway such value.

“If we achieve our goals of moving towards a new social norm, then people won’t be fatigued by the conversation or the issue and we can address other big issues. It doesn’t have to be in silo, and we need to make it easier for people to achieve these changes.”


The Big Business Plastics Debate (Part One): Are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

3 June 2019, source edie newsroom

Over two days at edie Live 2019, sustainability and resource efficiency experts from across the country gathered for the Big Plastics Debate - a live, on-stage panel discussion about the drivers, challenges and opportunities behind eliminating single-use plastics. Here, we summarise the first part of what was a highly provocative discussion.

Two expert panels discussions outlined how the debate on plastics has moved on from target setting to holistic action

Two expert panels discussions outlined how the debate on plastics has moved on from target setting to holistic action

Our chair, Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) chief executive Paul Vanston, set the scene for the Big Plastics Debate with an interesting comparison; likening the current scramble to ditch single-use plastics to the ongoing furore surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU.

“Over the past 18 months, the plastics discussion has felt a little bit like Brexit,” Vanston said. “It’s become very binary – you’re either a leaver, or you are a remainer; there’s no in-between. With plastics, you’re either for or against.”

The recent flurry of plastics-related documentaries – from Sky Ocean Rescue to Blue Planet via Drowning in Plastics – has placed the large majority of consumers in the ‘against’ camp when it comes to plastics. Indeed, 82% of UK shoppers now believe the amount of plastic packaging needs to be “drastically reduced”, while 57% view plastic pollution as the single greatest threat to the environment in the modern era.

This surge in demand for radical action to reduce plastics has placed business in a somewhat precarious position. Collaborative initiatives such as the UK Plastics Pact have welcomed a large number of paying corporates seeking solutions that will accelerate the transition away from single-use plastics. But moving too quickly on the issue could well cause trade-offs or unintended consequences.

Plastics pollution has been in national headlines for almost two years now, and it remains one of the few subjects of great national interest that have united MPs who are otherwise fractured over Brexit. But, as our edie Live panel began to discuss, the plastics debate has changed since the wave of momentum began, and a more nuanced conversation is starting to emerge.

“Plastics aren’t an evil product,” Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) senior marine project manager Fiona Llewellyn said. “It’s an amazing product that has changed our lives for the better in so many ways. The trouble is its durability. When we talk about throwing plastics away, there is no away, it’s always somewhere. Bottles are one of the most common items found in the ocean. They are the flagship species for ocean plastics pollution and are a gateway to engaging people with other environmental issues and the misuse of plastics.”

Spurred by conservation projects which ensure that “wildlife thrives and where humans and animals can live cohesively”, Llewellyn and ZSL have seen first-hand the devastating impact that plastics can have on the natural environment, notably marine ecosystems where plastics could outweigh fish by 2050. It is this rather distressing narrative that has seemingly ignited consumer demands for alternatives, and ZSL has been keen to trial city-wide action to combat the issue. The Society, in partnership with Marine Collaboration, has used the #OneLess campaign to galvanise businesses, policymakers, NGOs and the public to reduce single-use water bottles in the city of London. The average London adult buys 3.37 plastic water bottles every week – equivalent to more than one billion per year on a city level.

Llewellyn’s comments that plastics aren’t evil was a mirrored by numerous other speakers during edie Live’s Big Plastics Debate, with the experts pointing to unsustainable behaviours, poor infrastructure, bad design and prohibitive policy as the less immediately obvious causes of plastics pollution.

To this point, hospitality provider BaxterStorey’s head of sustainable business Mike Hanson noted that he is anti-litter rather than anti-plastic and that consumerism in general is in need of a massive overhaul, not only to reduce virgin resource use, but to “better articulate the value” of materials such as plastic. Instead, Hanson said that the current engagement and interest on the issue can be used as a springboard to start conversations that address some of the major causes of plastics pollution – namely the aforementioned issues of design, behaviour and infrastructure.

“There is no single solution, no magic bullet to combatting plastics,” Hanson said. “You need to focus on design, resource efficiency and waste management and tap into the current enthusiasm. We have a great opportunity and now is the perfect storm, awareness is absolutely massive, and we need to make fundamental change.

“But we also need to recognise that plastic has a huge role to play. We need to understand what we’re using and if we have the right waste stream for it. What we replace single-use plastics with can have a larger impact on society, on the environment and on cost, but we are at danger of almost throwing the baby out with the bathwater because the impact of an alternative could be far higher.”

Unintended consequences

Hanson used plastic’s interdependent relationship with food as a prime example where any changes to the packaging – which are much quicker for businesses and policymakers to introduce compared to infrastructure – could cause net-negative results. Some retailers have taken steps to remove shrink wrapping from loose produce ranges, but Hanson pointed out that this type of packaging helps increase the shelf life of cucumbers from three days to 14. These “knee-jerk” approaches to the issue could create more problems than solutions across the environmental spectrum, Hanson said.

This sentiment was echoed to some extent by Waitrose’s head of CSR, agriculture and health Tor Harris. On plastics, Waitrose has committed to a 2025 goal of making all its own-brand packaging is either recyclable, reusable or home compostable and has banned the sale of single-use plastic straws and disposable coffee cups in all of its UK stores, following earlier phase-outs of products such as plastic-stemmed cotton buds and microbead-based health and beauty lines. It has additionally pledged to remove black plastic, which is notoriously hard-to-recycle, from all own-brand products by the end of 2019. But alongside this, the retailer has pledged its support for a joint commitment to halve food waste outputs by 2030, in line with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A key aspect of this commitment is ensuring that fresh produce does not go to waste – so, packaging that extends shelf-life is only becoming more important for the retailer.

For Harris, the current furore around plastics has created an opportunity for the retailer to “push the boundaries” on what can be achieved in reducing single-use plastics, provided it doesn’t create trade-offs for food waste.

“The reason we use plastics is to protect quality and prolong shelf life for food,” Harris said. “We have to weigh up the environmental benefits of the packaging against the environmental benefits of prolonging the shelf life of a product so that we or a customer don’t end up throwing it away. We are going to be taking packaging off some items to see where we can push the boundaries and remove it without any negative impact on food waste or quality.”

Waitrose’s balanced approach to plastics has seen it home in on “problem” plastics in the first instance, such as single-use items and black plastics. As such, the firm is now trialling fibre-based packaging across its range of Italian ready meals. These will replace the black plastic trays currently used for three of its Italian ready meal products with the alternative material, which it claims is 100% FSC-certified and widely recyclable. Harris also noted that some plastic replacements are still too costly for businesses to implement. Citing coffee cups, she claimed that it is relatively easy economic shift from disposable to reusable variants, but that introducing refill stations at shops “is a much different conversation” – although Waitrose is looking to introduce refill stations at locations where refurbishing and retrofitting has been scheduled.

The panel discussion seemed to be in a consensus, then, that rapid moves away from certain plastics could create unintended consequences in the near future. Could it be that, in 10 years’ time, we are debating the use of field crops for packaging when land use for food becomes strained, or whether biodegradable and oxy-degradable are, in fact, forms of greenwash? And, as Part Two of the Big Plastics Debate goes onto explore, there is a huge societal aspect to the conversation which must also be considered.


Scottish government unveils £3 billion investment portfolio in slew of green finance policy

Image: The Scottish National Party

Image: The Scottish National Party

Climate change topped the bill of the Scottish government’s ‘Programme for Government’, announced by Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

A ‘Green New Deal’ was chief among the policy pledges, which includes a £3 billion Green Investment Portfolio.

Projects involving renewables, waste, the circular economy and property are set to benefit from the investment package.

The Scottish government will make a public call for projects in November, working alongside Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Futures Trust, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish National Investment Bank.

Also under the ‘Green New Deal’ is the establishment of the new Scottish National Investment Bank, which will have an initial pot of £130 million for its first year.

The funding is to provide finance with the intention of driving additional investment in Scotland across both the public and private sectors.

The bank's primary goal is to ensure the transition to net zero and it is set to invest at least £2 billion over ten years.

Under a new Green Growth Accelerator – also announced in the 'Programme for Government' and expanded from the current Growth Accelerator – local authorities can borrow to invest in projects which reduce emissions and boost growth.

Speaking as the document was unveiled, Sturgeon pledged to ensure that Scotland “benefits economically” from moving towards net zero.

“We are without doubt one of the best countries in the world to invest in low carbon or net zero projects – by promoting the Green Investment Portfolio, we will ensure that fact is known to investors around the world," she continued.

Finance wasn’t the only focus of the ‘Programme for Government’, however. Measures for encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) were detailed, although two of these – a £7.5 million EV infrastructure pilot and £20 million in funding for public charging infrastructure – have been previously announced.

The Scottish government intends to decarbonise its public sector fleet by 2025 and an additional £17 million was also announced for the purchase of ultra-low emission vehicles as part of its Low Carbon Transport Loan scheme.

It is also intending to “lead by example” by accelerating efforts to use 100% renewable electricity on the Scottish public estate.

However, the Scottish Government’s plans for renewables were – on the whole – missing, with details set to be outlined in the next Energy Statement.

But what was detailed was the Scottish government's support “in principle” for plans from the Oil and Gas Technology Centre to establish a Net Zero Solution Centre, which would see the deployment of carbon capture usage and storage and hydrogen and renewables technologies that are able to integrate with existing oil and gas infrastructure.

Once a business case analysis is completed, the Scottish government will confirm its funding contribution and call on the UK government to co-invest.

An Offshore Wind Policy Statement will also be developed, making clear the Scottish government’s ambitions for offshore wind.

“The year ahead will consolidate Scotland’s position as a leader in the battle against climate change,” Sturgeon continued.

“In short, while the Westminster government shuts down, the Scottish Government is stepping up.”


5 charts that show renewable energy's latest milestone.

5 charts that show renewable energy's latest milestone

Traditional Incandescent light bulbs are seen at an apartment in Munich August 31, 2009. "Incandescent bulbs will be phased out between September 2009 and September 2012," said a spokesman for the EU Presidency said in December 2008. European households could initially save up to 50 euros ($65) a year by switching to more efficient halogen, LED and fluorescent CFL lamps, with greater savings as costs for the more expensive but longer-lasting bulbs fall. REUTERS/Michael Dalder (GERMANY BUSINESS ENERGY ENVIRONMENT) - GM1E58V111101
Electricity derived from renewable sources has outstripped the amount of energy generated by coal.
Image: REUTERS/Michael Dalder

The 36 countries that make up the OECD bloc of developed nations have reached a milestone in the production of green energy. For the first time, electricity derived from renewable sources has outstripped that generated by burning coal.

Image: International Energy Agency

Figures from the International Energy Agency for 2018 show renewables as an energy source just edging out coal. When taken as a total across the bloc, renewables were used to produce 2,896 terawatt hours of electricity, while burning coal produced 2,863 terawatt hours.

It’s a tight margin but the chart above shows a clear trend. Coal is in rapid decline across the OECD, while renewable sources of energy are surging. Gas is now the most common source of fuel for energy production across the OECD. It’s cleaner than coal but still a fossil fuel that contributes to global warming.

Various sources of renewable energy have given OECD nations the ability to rapidly scale production. Hydro power is by far the leading source, with more than half the bloc’s total supply coming from water-powered production.

Image: International Energy Agency

Wind farms are the second largest source of green energy, producing 23% of the OECD’s supply. Solar power is another major contributor. The falling cost and increased efficiency of solar panels has pushed up their share of renewable electricity production in the OECD to 8.4%.

A global shift

The dash for renewables is not confined to developed nations. Around the world new generating capacity is being installed at a phenomenal rate, driven mainly by wind and solar. In the middle of 2018 the world reached a landmark, with more than 1,000 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity online, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

Image: BNEF

The problem with coal

Despite the increase in renewables, more coal than ever is being burned to generate electricity.

Image: International Energy Agency

Coal power generation increased 3% in 2018, and for the first time topped the 10,000 TWh mark, according to the International Energy Agency. Coal is still the largest fuel source for generating electricity, accounting for 38% of total global production.

The growth in coal-fired production was mainly in Asia, particularly in China and India. Investment in coal-fired power plants declined by nearly 3%, however, to the lowest level since 2004. India and China are also cancelling and delaying plans for new coal-fired power stations.

To hit targets for a sustainable global energy supply, coal-fired production needs to fall dramatically, and quickly, with an associated exponential rise in renewable production, as the chart below from the IEA illustrates.

Image: International Energy Agency

At the current rate of change, the world is set to miss sustainable development targets, but an accelerated rate of investment in renewable capacity could yet tip the balance in favour of greener energy.


This company grows crops inside, stacked on top of one another

This company grows crops inside, stacked on top of one another

These crops grow all year and have less environmental impact than traditional farming.
Image: Our Planet, Netflix

Is it an agriculture or a tech venture?

AeroFarms is blurring the lines between the two with its vertical farm.

Crops are grown inside, under lights, one on top of the other.

Image: Our Planet, Netflix

The advantages are numerous: higher productivity in a much smaller area; shorter growing times; lower water use; fresh produce grown much closer to where it’s eaten; and, AeroFarm executives say, improved food taste.

Here at AeroFarms, our aeroponic technology is a closed loop system, recycling water and nutrients with virtually 0 waste, resulting in 95% less water use than field farming. That also means no soil contamination and no toxic runoff into our waterways - https://aerofarms.com/environmental-impact/ 

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“On one hand we’re a farming company,” explains Chief Executive David Rosenberg. “On the other hand, we’re a technology company.”

Technology is central to making a vertical farm work.

AeroFarms uses an aeroponic system to provide the right amount of water and nutrients, with temperature and humidity constantly fine-tuned, so that each crop has the perfect growing conditions.

Image: Our Planet, Netflix

As a result, they can grow a variety of produce all year round, defying the seasons.

All of this adds up to farms that use 95% less water than traditional ones, while yielding up to 390-times more crops per-square-foot.

Circular and nutritious

And all these wins start with recycled bottles.

That’s how AeroFarms make the cloth on which the crops grow, which is also completely reusable.

There are benefits both for the environment – including lower carbon emissions as a result of growing crops right in the centre of a city rather than having them transported – and for our health.

“One of the most exciting opportunities about changing the environment is improving nutrition,” says Dr. April Agee Carroll, Vice President of Research and Development at AeroFarms.

“We know if we can really improve that with different environmental conditions, then we can have a product that’s more nutritious, that can bring a better value to people in their diets as well as really improving human health.”

Food for thought.