The development of a collective relationship between the Government and the UK waste and recycling industry with the Environment Agency (EA) has been the most defining step-change for EA head of waste, Liz Parkes, in her seven-year role.
Parkes is getting ready to leave her post on 1 April to head up the EA’s Climate Change portfolio. She told MRW: “Before, we would have a conversation with Government and then we would have a conversation with businesses but now, it’s more of a collective relationship. We’ve had to implement an awful lot of pieces of legislation in just over half a dozen years [and this approach has helped]. The industry is much more confident we will do things when we say we will do them.”
Parkes has worked in waste regulation for all her working life. But she explained that in her seven years as head of waste, she has seen a huge change in the industry.
“In the past, the local authorities ran their own waste management sites and there were lots of family businesses and one-man-bands,” Parkes commented. “It’s hugely different now because of the predominance of the top six waste companies. There is infrastructure being developed and new technologies coming online. It seems the industry is being shared by fewer hands now but there is also more diversification and new companies entering the industry seeing waste as much more of a resource and actually generating energy from it.
“It feels like a long journey but when one looks back on it, we’ve managed to do things relatively quickly. And we need to keep this momentum going and see even more pace to get things done.
“Once, we were seen as the dirty man of Europe, then we were the average man of Europe and now we’ve started to lead the way.”
Ready to take on her role as head of climate change at the EA, Parkes believes the relationship between waste and climate change, often seen separately, has already begun to align. She added that in her new role, “we will need the right level of ambition mixed with achievable targets.”