Government must take stronger action over looming raw material shortage

Call for new Office of Resource Management to co-ordinate Whitehall activity on threats to economy

The Government must take urgent action on the pending raw material crunch facing the UK, warned a broad group of business and environmental organisations today (20 August).

A joint letter from the Material Security Working Group, which includes EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, and Friends of the Earth, sent to the Government, warns that if the UK doesn’t develop a stronger strategy to keep valuable raw materials circulating within the economy there will be significant consequences for UK industry.

It wants to see the Government’s Resource Security Action Plan, published in March, to be strengthened and its ambitions raised.

The group claims increasing global demand coupled with rapidly degrading ecosystems is already putting pressure on supplies of some raw materials. The cost of raw materials has risen substantially in recent years, with commodity price rises in the last decade alone wiping out a century-long decline.

Despite recent fluctuations, material prices are projected to escalate as three billion people join the global middle classes, putting pressure on already fragile and depleted ecosystems. In future a greater number of materials – from wood, plastic and rubber to the ‘rare earth’ metals used to make every day electronic products and low-carbon technologies – are likely to be increasingly costly.

A recent EEF survey found 80 per cent of senior manufacturing executives considered limited access to raw materials was already a business risk and a threat to growth. For one in three companies it was their top risk.

Among the immediate measures that the organisations are calling for:

  • An Office for Resource Management to deal with the crisis consistently;
  • A task force to review existing targets and recommend policy changes to improve recycling;
  • A ban preventing recyclable materials being sent to “energy from waste” plants and landfills unless there is an environmental and economic case for doing so

The group are urging ministers to create safeguards to ensure that resources are used more efficiently to create and protect tens of thousands of jobs, minimise environmental degradation and help revitalise the economy.

Commenting, EEF Head of Climate & Environment Policy, Gareth Stace, said:

“We live in an age where global demand for resources is surging with prices on an upward trend and concerns about shortages mounting. Whilst the government’s Resource Security Action Plan was a step in the right direction, it falls short of meeting the challenges we will face when obtaining new resources will become more difficult and costly.

“Government must now step up its ambitions and produce a bolder plan of action that deals with the challenges not just now but in the longer term. This is vital not just from an environmental perspective but to ensure a long term sustainable future for manufacturing and the wider economy.”

Friends of the Earth Resource Campaigner Julian Kirby, said:

The country’s leading business and environment groups have joined forces to direct a clarion call to the Government - Ministers must take action to prevent a growing resource crisis becoming a catastrophe for our economy and the environment.

“The UK buries and burns at least £650 million a year of valuable materials - wasting billions of pounds of business and public money.

“David Cameron must address the incoherent approach to resource security his Government has taken so far.

“A new Office of Resource Management would ensure all departments create jobs and boost the economy by slashing the waste of natural resources.”

 

Notes for editors

1. See the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affair’s Resource Security Action Plan published in March here: http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb13719-resource-security-action-plan.pdf

2. EEF’s survey of manufacturing executives, Executive Survey 2012, was published in January. http://www.eef.org.uk/publications/reports/Executive-Survey-2012.htm . See Executive Summary and Chart 6, p.8

3. Signatories include ADS, British Glass, British Plastics Federation, Confederation of Paper Industries, EEF, Packaging Federation, UK Steel, Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, Friends of the Earth, the Resource Association, Professor Steve Evans (University of Cambridge, Institute of Manufacturing) and the North East Sustainable Resource Board

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