// The North Sea Resources Roundabout a year on
A huge amount has been achieved by the partners in the first international Green Deal, the North Sea Resources Roundabout (NSRR). It was only a year ago that participants from France, Flanders, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands signed a partnership agreement in Brussels which was designed to give products that had previously been labelled as waste a new (international) life as secondary raw materials; in April they met once again.
Robine van Dooren, project manager of the NSRR, was clear on this: “I am proud of what we’ve achieved.” A view that was shared by the day’s chairman, Ray Georgeson: “I can’t help but mention the turbulent environment that we’ve had to contend with in this context. We’ll just have to wait and see how Brexit develops further, but it hasn’t stopped parties from moving forward. Today we are celebrating the progress we’ve made and sharing the lessons we’ve learnt.” And also the fact that the Green Deal still has broad support from the public and private organisations, who are really committed to it. Sonia Phippard (Defra Director-General covering the environment, rural and marine), for example, had this to say on the subject: “I welcome and support this collaborative initiative that aims to find innovative, business-led solutions to barriers that can hamper attempts to improve resource efficiency by keeping materials in circulation. The work being taken forward through by the North Sea Resources Roundabout is an excellent example of how business, working in partnership with government, can help remove barriers and support the transition to a more circular economy.”
But Georgeson’s audience included more than just the partners involved in the project. Representatives from Denmark, Austria and Germany also attended the meeting, which was held at the Dutch Embassy. These countries are also interested in the Green Deal approach and may want to participate, so they were particularly keen to find out what other governments thought about it. Richard Rouquet proved to be an enthusiastic representative: “As well as taking part in the NSRR, since last summer France has also had its own Green Deals. This type of partnership is new to us, but working together with businesses brings a whole new impetus to the project.”
But it’s not only this new form of collaboration that will make a difference. The partners put urgent issues on the agenda and are driven to achieve results. Robine van Dooren: “The coming year is key for us. We expect the working groups to achieve concrete results for ‘their’ raw materials flow. We are keen to share the experiences and lessons they learn during that process more widely, both between the existing cases and with interested ‘outsiders’.” She also says that upscaling projects will be a key feature in 2017. “We want results to have a positive impact on trade in secondary raw materials. This goes beyond the specific NSRR cases: other businesses must also be able to reap the rewards. In order to achieve this, our concrete findings and results will be actively disseminated within the EU. We hope this will help improve regulations in this field and raise awareness of the initiative among potential new partners and cases.”
A key part of the Stakeholders Day was sharing experiences, both in presentations and in individual sessions. The positive vibe notable when the partnership agreement was signed a year ago still clearly existed. The atmosphere was generally positive, partly because the partners were realistic about the situation.
“Overall I feel a lot has been achieved in getting the three pilot cases involving the UK (rigid PVC, compost, non-ferrous metals from bottom ash) up and running”, says Simon Johnson, DEFRA. “Bringing the parties together, planning the work to be done, agreeing on the problems and barriers, and more recently starting to think about the possible solutions. As someone involved in all three Working Groups and the High-Level Steering Group, I found the collaborative and open nature of the initiative inspiring and rewarding from a personal point of view, but also effective in helping us to get to the stage where we can attempt to find real solutions this coming year. A key outcome of the first year was gaining a better understanding of which barriers we could possibly address within our circle of influence and realising what is outside our control. But it is also worth highlighting the intangible benefits of this kind of collaborative, voluntary bottom-up way of working based on the Dutch Green Deal. Benefits such as learning about and sharing information about initiatives and working methods not directly linked to the cases themselves, and developing stronger working relationships between our four countries.”
During the presentations Marc de Keizer from Inashco gave a clear picture of the barriers his company encounters when exporting bottom ash. “One of the biggest problems is that the status of our material varies from one country to another. This not only creates an uneven playing field but it also has a direct impact on the transport licences. Harmonisation of the required notifications and the legislation involved would make it far easier for us to export our materials. It’s not realistic to think that this goal could be achieved within a year but overall we’re very pleased. It’s partly because we have a permanent contact within the Ministry and because people in the various authorities are increasingly aware of the barriers we come up against.”
Ton van der Giessen (Van Werven Plastic Recycling) shares De Keizer’s positive take on the situation: “What’s important for us is that recycled PVC is given a clear status. But we realise that these kinds of processes take time. We may not be able to achieve this within this time frame but we’ve already done a great deal of work and research. Take the risks involved in using recycled PVC in cable pipes, for example. This research indicates that storage is not hazardous to health or the environment. That brings our goal – PVC achieving end-of-waste status in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK – a step closer.”
But perhaps the greatest progress has been made by the working group on compost. They already have specific plans. “We want to export the compost produced by Twence to northern England. We are currently drawing up the project plan, which sets our objectives out clearly and defines the time frame involved. For us too, it’s crucial that the compost is regarded in both countries as a new raw material, not as waste. And we’ve already been able to take a number of concrete steps in this direction. For example, two logistics chains have been defined. We also hope that our compost will be awarded end-of-waste status next month,” says Wim de Jong.
A working group that joined the NSRR at a later stage is working on struvite (phosphorus obtained from waste water). Although they only started six months ago, initial experiences are positive. Mathieu Delahaye: “We are looking for markets for struvite as a fertiliser. We are investigating whether it is possible for the EU Member States to recognise each other’s legislation in this field. Because at the moment, for example, it can be used in the Netherlands but not in France.” Germany is also interested in joining the project. Daniël Frank from the German Phosphorus platform: “We are also extracting struvite, and we’re hoping for greater clarity concerning the legislation, to allow us to create a new market.”
Is there green life after Brexit?
In the Green Deal North Sea Resources Roundabout, partners from France, Flanders, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are working together towards a circular economy. But what nobody had expected when the deal was signed was that, almost exactly a year later, the UK would formally announce its intention to leave the EU. We asked our partners from the UK what impact Brexit would have on the partnership.
Simon Wilson from the Green Alliance. “We won’t know the outcome of Brexit for at least another year, probably only in two or more. But we need to ensure that the circular economy grows in spite of this. There is still a strong desire to work together on these issues, and I don’t see that changing over the next couple of years.” In his view, it would also be a shame because: “There has been some good progress on the cases to date, and the next year will be the test as to whether the problems identified can be solved through this innovative process. So far, it’s looking positive.”
Maintain the relationships
And Ray Georgeson (Resource Association) is also pleased with the progress that has been made. “It is clear that there are cross-cutting themes that affect all projects, such as regulatory consistency, end-of-waste status definitions and recognition of quality standards, but the process of sharing experiences to date has benefitted all projects and highlighted these outstanding issues.” However, he anticipates that Brexit won’t make things any easier. “Brexit certainly complicates matters, especially as so much uncertainty about the negotiations remains a factor. In principle, if the UK and the EU negotiate workable efficient trading arrangements then it should be ‘business as usual’ but this remains uncertain. The value of cooperation across boundaries and sectors has already been established and everyone involved will want to maintain their good working relationships.”
Not specifically EU-related
Moreover, Simon Johnson, DEFRA, anticipates that any agreements made will be future-proof. “It is worth noting that the NSRR initiative is not specifically EU-related even if it there are links. It was the voluntary, business-focused bottom-up collaborative nature of the initiative which attracted the UK to sign the International Green Deal. We liked the idea of working on areas of common concern with countries and organisations that saw themselves as front-runners on wanting to keep more secondary resources within circulation. This was in line with our policy of wanting to move towards a more circular economy and improve resource efficiency. That remains our policy and the NSRR can continue to play a part in helping us achieve that aim.”
All three men remain optimistic and are still making plans. Georgeson: “In the short term, it would make sense to pick up the theme of a potential new project and develop a strategic approach to tackling the issues that remain in relation to the impact of regulators and looking for solutions to the issues of inconsistency, slow turnaround of notifications and paperwork. The idea of a ‘pre-authorisation’ process for mainstream recyclers has merit and should be explored. I would advocate a working party or joint symposium of members of the NSRR and representatives from all the relevant regulators and IMPEL as a useful next step in building understanding and dialogue, leading to mutually agreed solutions.”
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