What will the next 12 months look like for the waste industry?

Nearly a month since the RWM & Let’s Recycle Live 2022, the UK’s leading event for waste, resource and sustainability professionals, we are catching up with Emily Nurse our Sustainability and Social Value Intern, to capture the insight of an industry newcomer, who spent a couple of days in Birmingham last month to find out what the next 12 months will look like for the waste industry.

As a newbie to the waste sector, and a first-time attendee to the RWM exhibition this year, my eyes and ears were opened fully to the industry – and where better to begin my journey than at the UK’s most noteworthy event for waste, resource, and sustainability professionals. Here are the highlights from the event and what 2023 holds for the waste industry.


Winner of my ‘word mentioned the most award’, legislation stood loud and proud in the RWM exhibition theatre as an item that is rising up the waste agenda. It is paramount that over the next 12 months, Government provides clarity through clearly instated policy, framework, and guidelines for those in the waste industry – not only to prevent stalling investment for private companies, but to build back up the confidence that has been lost. This erosion of confidence has already been seen through The Scottish Government in 2020, who raised the white flag in its commitment to banning biodegradable municipal waste to landfill by 2021. The ban was delayed by five years, now having been pushed back to 2025.

There is no doubt that the last couple of years have been hard. We know that the effects of Covid-19 are still being seen, and that the war in Ukraine is worsening the logistics logjam which arose in lockdown. The recent change of Government will undoubtedly delay things further, alongside the cost-of-living crisis and rising energy costs which are currently being acknowledged as the number one priority. However, decisions must still be made and Government cannot wait for a period of lull that may never occur. Consistency and legislation from Government are not just important – they are the prerequisite for the investment cycle, for any progress to be made.

Reducing consumption

Today, people extract and use approximately 50% more natural resources than 30 years ago. In 2019, England’s material footprint was estimated to be 902 million tonnes, making up 84% of the UK’s entire material footprint. The need to embrace a circular economy is becoming acutely clear on a planet that is consuming more raw materials than it can sustain. Amidst the emerging cost of living crisis, there is a unique opportunity for the waste and resources sector – not to focus only on reducing consumption, or to tell people how to live, but to reframe consumption. This is also evident in SUEZ’s latest research report, The Stuff of Life, which explores the challenges of consumption and consumerism. As an industry, we can play a pivotal role through changing the system, and normalising reuse. We have already begun to see change, through organisations such as Freegle, Too Good to Go, Library of Things and local refill shops. This kind of action is beginning to lead the way for change. However, these initiatives need to become mainstream, attractive to all, and accessible, for real, big-scale impact to be seen. Will consumer choice lead to an achievement of reduced consumption over the next 12 months, or do we need policy to drive this change?

Women in waste

As a young woman new to the waste industry, it would be wrong not to draw attention to the wealth of inspiring, knowledgeable women I heard speak and met with during RWM’s two-day event. Whilst there are often preconceived ideas of who fits the mold to be working in waste, this stereotype was well and truly discredited, owing to the progress that has been made by the sector in terms of gender equality. Whilst attending a session at RWM on Women in Resource and Sustainability, led by the fantastic Sarah Foster, Managing Director, Comply Direct and Vicki Hughes , Group Business Development Director at Enva Wood Recycling, I was introduced to the WINS Community (Women in Sustainability). Becoming a subscriber allows access to monthly live sessions, online resources, coaching and mentoring, which supports women through an inclusive online community to reach their goals and become empowered. Earlier this week, I attended SUEZ’s Women’s Network Conference, which provided the opportunity for women in waste to connect and amplify our impact.

In 2012, the percentage of UK, female led directorships within FTSE 100 companies was just 15%. In 2021, that figure stands closer to 40%. This data provides evidence that we are seeing positive change for women, who are increasingly being recognised – and rightly so – for their capacity to lead. However, increasing gender equality within businesses, particularly within waste, still has a long way to go, and there is plenty of progress to be made. Yet, diversity does not simply encompass gender, but also race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, education background, and more. Representation of these characteristics are still not seen within the sector. Crucially, diversity is not seeing everyone as the same, but acknowledging and understanding people’s differences, and ensuring that these are representative within an organisation. I am confident that over the next 12 months, diversity will continue to increase in the industry, and will not be seen as a tick box exercise.

Recognising talent in the industry

Whilst at RWM I attended the 35 under 35 panel, highlighting some of the incredible and upcoming talent in the waste and resources sector. It was amazing to see some of my peers having been recognised for their talent in the industry, and for SUEZ to have status holders for 2022. Amongst those award-winners from SUEZ was Natalie Johnson, a Contract Compliance Manager, who was able to give me a couple of her thoughts:

“The theme I noticed across the conference was a continued need for clarity and certainty in policy around the principles that are set to shape our sector over the next decade, DRS, EPR and collection consistency. The sector is so ready to invest but is somewhat paused without this clarity.

“It was fantastic to be named as a 35 under 35 status holder at the conference and meeting fellow status holders and nominees. It was great to see young talent positively impacting throughout the sector in a variety of roles. To be 1 of 3 status holders from SUEZ shows that the company is recognising young talent and supporting its growth.” – Natalie Johnson – 35 under 35 status holder.

I look forward to working in the waste and resources sector, and in helping to address some of these issues with SUEZ as part of my internship programme. Times are definitely interesting – that is exciting and daunting in equal measure, but as we all know, change is the only constant!