Biodiversity work to highlight how waste sector can get nature-positive

Isabel Clifford, Policy and Public Affairs Officer, Aug 2, 2022

Work to look at the industry’s contribution towards protecting, restoring & enhancing biodiversity as well as developing best practice standards for the sector along with exploring and quantifying the industry’s impacts on biodiversity has started

Members of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), along with the wider recycling and waste management industry, play a crucial role in conserving resources and protecting the environment from the effects of unmanaged waste. Our sector also plays an important role in mitigating climate change by helping to save carbon emissions across the wider economy as well as tackling our own direct and indirect emissions. 

The sector’s role within the circular economy is of course well understood by now and, with work in recent years like the ESA’s Net Zero Strategy, the sector’s contribution towards net-zero carbon goals is also becoming better understood and more accurately quantified across the industry and among policy-makers – even if we are sometimes still side-lined in the global carbon conversation. 

However, in addition to preserving resources and tackling climate change, we also have an important role to play in promoting and protecting biodiversity both at home and abroad, although the ability to measure and fully understand our contribution to this important area, particularly as part of a global economy, is somewhat less developed than it is for our sector’s other environmental roles. 

In September 2021, the ESA established a Biodiversity Working Group to promote the industry’s contribution towards protecting, restoring and enhancing biodiversity as well as to develop best practice standards for the sector while exploring and quantifying the industry’s current and potential positive impacts on biodiversity. 

In order to do this, the working group has defined three priority areas of focus. Firstly, looking at the biodiversity impacts associated with raw material extraction which are avoided through treatment, recycling, re-use and reprocessing activities for waste material. This includes avoided impacts not just from extraction, but also from production as well as and the safe destruction of toxins from hazardous waste materials and other positive impacts delivered through the safe management of waste materials. 

Secondly, the impacts on nature arising from our activities, facilities and land holdings, both positive and negative and, lastly, considering the indirect impacts caused by our activities such as supply chain and overseas impacts from processing exported materials. 
Promoting the opportunities for nature positive actions is an important function of the group and last year the group gathered together case studies from ESA member companies to share for inclusion in Defra’s Council for Sustainable Business’s ‘Nature Positive Handbook’ which showcases some of the positive initiatives being undertaken to enhance biodiversity across the industry. 

For example, looking at the initiatives currently underway, it is clear that the waste management sector has a unique opportunity to make a nature positive contribution through actions associated with its significant land holdings, particularly at closed landfill sites. Since these sites are typically protected from development they present a great opportunity to improve biodiversity through restoration work designed to encourage native species growth as well as create and protect key habitats such as wetlands and ponds - maximising ecosystem enrichment and carbon sequestration. 

With a better understanding of the factors outlined above, the working group is currently developing best practice guidance to set a benchmark for ESA members and provide a source of information to our peers for preserving biodiversity, meeting regulatory requirements and seizing opportunities for nature positive actions. 

Furthermore, the group aims to develop recommendations on available metrics and will consider a sector-specific reporting tool for biodiversity performance. In order to fully understand and improve the industry’s contribution to biodiversity, it is important to quantify the impacts of our sites and activities on nature, but these impacts vary depending on sites, habitats and locations, and no such tool currently exists which can measure all three priority areas mentioned above, so we look forward to developing this work throughout 2022 and to sharing both the tool and best practice guidance with the sector in due course. 


*This article was first published in the most recent edition of the CIWM Circular magazine and has been reproduced with kind permission.