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Waste and Carbon – Interview with Peter Jones

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Waste and Carbon: an interview with Peter Jones September 2011                 

Peter Jones is one of the UK’s leading authorities on waste, resource efficiency and recovery, and on pollution and carbon emissions. He took a degree in industrial economics, and then worked initially in logistics, relevant to his work in the waste industry over the last 25 years. He was for 20 years a director for Biffa Waste Management, with a focus on external affairs and strategy development. He led the Biffa research studies in UK resource flows. He has also been in many advisory roles on strategies for reducing waste, CO2 emissions and pollution, and for resource efficiency and recovery. These have been for businesses, and on boards, committees and think-tanks in the public sector. Since leaving Biffa in 2008, his advisory and educational work has continued; he is now working independently. He is a non-Executive Director for a number of waste technology companies and a special advisor to the Mayor of the London on the London Waste and Recycling Board, a strategic advisor for a variety of UK blue chip companies examining the issues around distributed energy and the impact of low carbon policies.  He is on the waste and resources advisory panel of Climate Change Capital – one of the largest venture capital (VC) funds in the sector with over £1 billion of funding. He also assists other VC companies with specific waste related investments. In the summer of 2009 he became a non-Executive Director of the NNFCC (National Non–Food Crop Centre), a think tank specializing in biogenic material use for fossil carbon displacement. He is chairman of Waste2Tricity, and also an honorary Board member of the Combined Heat and Power Association. A few years ago he was awarded an OBE for this work. In July 2007 he received an Honorary Degree from the University of Southampton as a Doctor of the University for work associated with Environmental technologies. You can visit his website: where you can find talks, commentaries and papers.

The interview is organised under 7 topics, each around 7-10 minutes, in video (averaging 470mb on WMV files) or in audio (around 50mb on WMA files). The video is on YouTube with a link given here and the audio is on my/this website. Peter starts with an introduction and overview in part 1 and then in parts 2 and 3 he goes on to identify the key issues and problems we face. These he sees in terms of inputs and outputs, found to be a useful framework for analysing resource use, energy and pollution in relation to sustainable production and consumption, and for developing strategies for this. Then he discusses solutions, in parts 4 and 5. He ends with discussing further the opportunities, drivers and enablers of change, while bringing us back to the issues of pace and timing, the urgency of the situation and the challenges we face, in parts 6 and 7.

Here are the 7 parts of the interview in outline (with the video, YouTube, and audio links given here on my/this website. A summary overview of each part is given below this on my website, if you scroll down. If you are on YouTube then visit it:

1. Introduction and Overview 7 mins 

Video:You Tube

Audio: PJ1s_sep11

2. Input Problems 10.17 mins

Video:You Tube–oggWPIM&feature=related

Audio:  PJ2s_sep11

3. Output Problems 10.14 mins

Video: You Tube

Audio: PJ3s_sep11

4. Solutions – 1 Regulations and Technology 10. 37 mins

Video: YouTube

Audio: PJ4s_sep11

5. Solutions – 2 Business Opportunities and Public Attitudes 11. 25 mins

Video: YouTube

Audio: PJ5s_sep11

6. Changes in Social Attitudes in general and Business Opportunities for the UK

10.49 mins

Video: YouTube

Audio: PJ6s_sep11

7. Awareness, Acceptance, Mobilisation and Decision frameworks and Roles in all involved within the Process of this Change – 10.54

Video: YouTube

Audio: PJ7s_sep11

Summary (Comments added by me as interviewer are in smaller size font). Key ideas are highlighted in italics – my own).

1. Introduction and Overview

After a personal introduction Peter summarises the key issues globally as:

(1) A finite supply of resources and increasing demand on them from a growing  population that is consuming more as more people can afford to do so. The resources include materials,  minerals, inorganic materials, and biodiversity in our habitat. Waste of materials and energy through inefficiencies in the conversion of resources into products and services and in the depletion and low levels of  recovery or re-use of materials and resources in society after consumption or at the end of a product’s life, are part of this problem of living within the limits of finite resources and natural processes.

(2) Man-made pollution and imbalances in the atmosphere creating the greenhouse effect on the earth’s atmosphere and climate (from excess of greenhouse gas emissions such as CO2 see video interview  in July 2011 with David Wasdell in the Climate category on this website). All this can  degrade or destroy our natural habitat (biodiversity, and the quality of soil, water and oceans as well as the air or atmosphere) on which we depend, reducing resources further, as well as causing human death from drought, famine and disease or extremes of climate and loss of the health giving properties of nature. Emissions can be at  any stage in the cycle from resources to production  and from consumption to disposal, but is essentially an output of production and consumption.

2. Input Problems

Peter identifies 4 key issues covering: on the supply side, limited natural resources and the processes and technology in the supply chain (production and distribution) and population on the demand side – and the  skills, attitudes and knowledge, norms and practices needed for the socio-cultural and technical changes involved.

(1) Resource scarcity issues: the input/output ratio in converting resources into products or services for consumption. In the UK this ratio is 19 to 1: 19 tonnes of resource used inefficiently (and ending up as waste or pollution) to produce 1 tonne for consumption on average per person each year for 65 million people, based on the Biffa resource flow studies. These databases and tools can be used for the ongoing monitoring of resources and pollution, needed for the economic system, and for policy and strategy development and testing within it. Natural resources and life-sustaining natural processes need to be valued and measured within our economic models of wealth and prosperity. (I add here –  alongside current measures of economic prosperity such as physical capital, GDP, financial investment, savings and income for example, and the resources or wealth inherent in human knowledge and culture and in stable and healthy societies and the institutions in them. GDP alone can be a “grossly distorted picture”, as the The Economist stated some years ago, suggesting 3 indices: net national income – economic, level of income inequality- social, and measures of  key processes in ecosytems and the biodiversity and natural resources in them – natural environment; a new version of the “triple bottom line”).

(2) Acquisition of Knowledge, Skills and Social Attitudes affecting Behaviour and Practices e.g.: measurement and monitoring of resources, conversion and output (pollution, carbon intensity, resource flows, energy use etc), engineering or economics (whole life costing and other tools) for new technologies and economic systems etc. Public and consumer awareness, attitudes and practices touched on.

(3) Population:  Increasing globally currently at 80 million a year or 1.5 million a week (particularly in countries with more poverty, infant and child mortality, lower reproductive health,  and less education or women’s rights. See David Attenborough’s input mentioned. As countries become richer birth rates may come down but consumption per person traditionally has increased. So the demand on natural resources and processes remains high.

(4) Management of Supply Chains – Waste and Carbon: wasteful delivery (e.g. food). Environmental costs or carbon emissions not priced or costed into the conversion, production or distribution processes. Fixed investment in carbon intensive technology in production, transport, preparation or consumption – and return on that investment sought before it is updated. EU 2013 emissions trading and carbon offsets may take decades to produce change as a result.

3. Output Problems

Six issues or types of problem are identified here, covering pollution, consumption and waste or low resource recovery and depletion of resources at the end of the production-consumption cycle with both technical and socio-cultural factors involved:

(1) Carbon emissions: awareness of the issue has increased during the last 10 years. Natural disasters and extremes of climate are, it seems, more frequent and may be due to climate change. Carbon intensity in business is beginning to decrease.

(2) Inorganic pollution, e.g.: phosphates reaching saturation limits in the soil, and run off leading to algae blooms, and nitrates in drinking water.

(3) Depletion of  soils – the carbon in soil needed to grow food is not being replaced. Soil erosion and soil loss.

(4) Culture of consumption: while there are clearly benefits, the scale of consumption has an impact on  global  resources that is unsustainable. This raises questions about how far people should be encouraged to consume, and what drives it individually and socially. Examples are given of huge benefits from new technology accessible to most people that seems to have a low impact on global resources and the pollution of them, but, through lack of monitoring and data, the energy demands or polluting effects are not clear.

(5) Waste, and Pollution arising from it: on land and in the oceans (the atmosphere is covered under carbon and green house gas and other gas emissions): on land resource recovery, in various forms, and reuse, is beginning to improve. There are country differences: in the UK we were 100% dependent on land fill. Now in 2011 50 %. In the oceans: pollution in various forms, but especially plastics. Depletion of fish stocks and biodiversity in the oceans is due to this pollution as well as over-fishing both at a scale beyond the capacity of natural processes of recovery, either altogether or in the short-term.

4. Solutions – 1 Regulations and Technology

Government regulations and taxes on the “stick” side that send price signals that make it costly to waste or pollute, together with polices on the “carrot” side that provide subsidies  and tax incentives, can together promote investment in, adoption of and scaling up, of new technologies, that are based on the applications of sound science in all disciplines, to reduce waste by improving resource and energy efficiency and to minimise pollution or depletion of natural resources. The European Union is taking a lead in developing regulatory frameworks for other countries to adapt to their societies and economies. Examples of regulations and taxes: producer responsibility for improving resource efficiencies and the input/output ratio (e.g. 19 tonnes of input for 1 tonne of output per person in UK). Substantial increase in land fill tax and land fill gate fees in the UK since 1996. Internalising environmental costs e.g. carbon price or tax. Examples are given of new technologies for reclaiming fuel, heat, electricity and resources from waste which reduce carbon footprint and provide new business opportunities in waste processing (for farmers too). Pete looks at waste as re-usable carbon and sets out 3 basic routes for making use of it: compost on the ground to feed the soil, biochemical, digestive processes that mimic stomachs, and higher temperature gasification technologies.  This can be seen as a spectrum with increasing temperatures, technology costs and energy input. The biochemical processes use bacteria to digest together clean food and forest waste or pig slurry, possibly together (e.g. in an air-starved environment like anaerobic digestors) and gasification includes plasma arc and thermo-chemical processes (burning or baking in oxygen). Key in this is understanding the CO2 impact of these different systems from collection and logistics to preparation of fuel feedstock, through fuel conversion to carbon displacement. The science of all this is developing.

5. Solutions – 2 Business Opportunities and Public Attitudes

Alongside the influences of the regulatory environment coming from government supported by the rule of law and effective institutions, there are changing public attitudes, in substantial sectors of the market, that encourage businesses and their share holders to invest in cleaner and more resource and energy efficient technologies, processes and products in their supply chains, and adopt production, accounting and measurement practices that support these. This can enhance the reputation of their brand or company and attract investors, employees and customers and improved customer retention and market share, the footprint of a brand making this transparent. So this works with enlightened or commercial self-interest. To reduce footprint, companies are now looking at the whole production process from raw material production through conversion to packaging (e.g. biodegradable) and distribution. This can reduce costs for existing businesses as the return on investment kicks in and also provide opportunities to develop new businesses or products and services (including those for extracting CO2 from the air – see below), that contribute of course to net national income, employment and the tax revenues and a reduced benefits bill for the government. Some new technologies produce savings and a good return on investment for householders and owners of business, retail or office premises and hotels or apartment blocks (solar electricity or heat, LED lights, cladding on buildings, combined heat and power, cooking and refrigeration or washing appliances/systems), while creating business opportunities. The value of waste materials is increasing in some areas making the reprocessing of this, with new or improved technology, viable as a business (perhaps even fishing for plastic as well as, or rather than, fish). Mimicking, accelerating and industrialising the natural and chemical processes of our planet for human ends (without necessarily taking it to an extreme) was mentioned as a way into designing clean and efficient technologies for fuel, energy and materials was mentioned. This is also used to some extent for developing carbon capture or extraction and storage technology. The need for technology to extract or absorb excess CO2 from the atmosphere was raised and briefly discussed in relation to risks and viability: (1) BioChar to prevent it returning to the air as plants, the inedible parts of crops or trees decompose and release it – as long as heavy metals and other pollutants are not part of the input, usually arising out of the use of fertilisers and (2) the use of calcium carbonate or carbonate as a way to store carbon indefinitely after it is captured at points of power plant emissions, or absorbed from the air instead, and possibly using it then as aggregate or cement (see and for the extraction process see the work of Klaus Lackner and Allen Wright supported by the Comer Foundation and ARCH venture capital

While these are clearly part of the solution, the need to reduce emissions, the other key part essential to address climate change, was stressed as paramount as the sheer volume of emissions produced daily and the amount of carbon absorption or sequestration needed for it: both short cycle (e.g. wood burning) and long cycle (e.g. oil) CO2. In this and the previous section, key social actor groups in a modern society are highlighted in italics to show that most of them are involved.

6. Changes in Social Attitudes in general and Business Opportunities for the UK

Peter starts with a recap, pointing out that most big businesses now realise that we all depend on natural systems on our planet for our survival, and that growth, and the growth of their business or brand, is limited by natural resources – and that we need to do more with less. Management education and executive forums have played their part in this over the years. They also realise they have to work with the grain of social acceptability, particularly as people are more educated and aware. Then he goes on to stress the importance not only of new technology being affordable (and this is increasingly so), but that society as a whole and people need to understand from within that this is a good thing and not bad: a tripod of business economics, technology and society, with government setting the framework. Changes in awareness and attitudes in society as a whole brings this all together. Many technological innovations now are undertaken in the context of improving resource efficiency and environmental impact at the same time. The big companies and brands are doing it subtly for society. Longer life expectancy, together with accurate media coverage and information technology enabling more communication, enables people to see how things are changing in terms of resources, climate and the natural environment within their own life time, whereas  they may have taken the planet for granted in their younger years as being relatively unaffected by human actions. Also in families there is more opportunity for the old to learn from the young and the young from the old across 3 or more generations. Realisations like this drive buy in. Also in the  UK we have some specific advantages at this moment being a financial centre for investment funding, with good universities and science, ethnic diversity for market testing and international business, with a stable government system and the rule of law, and with speed of communications and population density. If we can re-gear our economy into a low carbon phase we have the chance to sell our services to the world, and make a contribution to the quality of (all) life in the future.

7. Awareness, Acceptance, Mobilisation and Decision frameworks and Roles in all people involved in the process of this Change

All social actor groups clearly involved now, to a greater or lesser extent, key for any social change to happen. While the UK has an opportunity to sell knowhow, systems and technology to the world, this is related to the speed of the relevant social changes in our country and across the world. The big challenge for change in our relations with the natural environment society is that it does not fit conventional slots. It is, yet another amidst a series of major shifts following the move to an industrial society. It runs as a threat across all areas. People will see the need for change and be mobilised to participate in the context of the different groups and networks to which they belong: economic, social or ethnic, intellectual or professional – and the different roles in society that they act within, like a three dimensional matrix. People will respond to messages about why change is needed and how it can come about and to the changes in products, services and supply chains, government regulations and so on accordingly. The process is dynamic and somewhat random. People as actors in the relevant processes involving  resources, materials and energy will have different responsibilities – for monitoring and transparency, for regulations to protect safety and key resources, for production and waste or resource recovery and so on. Together we need to enable each player or actor in the process to form the kind of framework needed in their minds for making decisions for tackling resource, waste, carbon and pollution issues. Shared mental models and cognitive rules are part of this. Monitoring results and making them transparent, creating the needed feedback loop for learning and making the necessary improvements in the whole input-output process is part of this.  Visionary approaches and sensible risk taking are needed and as the crisis deepens the more like a war time economy it will become, but at the same time the choices will be all the clearer, and enforce a more iterative process of monitoring and improving the developing science, technology involved in transforming the input, conversion and output processes. In the UK we can then export what we have learnt to the rest of the world. When will the crunch come? It may be slow burn but then suddenly become exponential over the next century or more. We will get the message from nature very quickly. This will act as an external impetus to drive this process forward. All this together can mobilise people across the world to address the climate and biodiversity challenges – the big challenge. The emphasis in this section is on those in the production and distribution part of the supply chain or resource recovery at the other end of the cycle. But social actor roles include citizens as consumers within their own social networks. The buying and investment and savings decisions mentioned in the last section are part of this, influencing in turn the decisions of shareholders and business leaders. So too are the practices, decisions and social norms involved in consumption and disposal as citizens. How much do we need to buy and own rather lease, rent, sell, part-own, share, or exchange? Some of this will be addressed in other entries on this website.





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