Far more needs to be done to develop energy-from-waste technologies such as anaerobic digestion, according to Shadow Environment Secretary Nick Herbert.
Speaking at Vision 2020, an event organised by the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (19 January), Herbert stressed that AD could be used to deal with waste that cannot be re-used or recycled.
The Conservatives plan to enable biogas produced from food and farm waste to replace half of residential gas heating, by changing the gas grid regulatory regime and introducing feed-in -tariffs.
Herbert said we need to move faster to harness this beneficial technology. He said that Germany had more than 2,500 AD plants compared to 30 in the UK.
He added: Its important, as the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee says, that waste should only be used for energy recovery if it is not possible to re-use, recycle or compost it. So we need to ensure that policy instruments, and the fiscal framework, reflect the waste hierarchy. But its also important to appreciate that re-use or recycling is only practical if there is a market for the materials. Recycling is a near-religion to many of us, but we need to ensure that what we are doing makes environmental and economic sense, and isnt just an article of faith.
Herbert also reiterated what he announced last July that the Conservatives will put a floor under the 2013 level of landfill tax at £72 per tonne until 2020. He said that this approach will give businesses certainty for the next decade, as well as sending a strong message to companies that they can invest in new forms of waste disposal using technology that we know already exists with confidence.
He also explained that the Conservatives will move away from regulation as the principal option for dealing with waste and implement more voluntary agreements, similar to the Courtauld Commitment (See MRW story). He said that there should be more focus on waste minimisation, reducing waste and re-using materials.
Herbert said that waste cannot be regulated out of existence. He added: Instead we believe that we need to pursue an innovative approach that doesnt rely on the blunt instrument of regulation alone although of course some regulation has a place and moves towards the greater use of more voluntary agreements of the kind which can be seen in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.
Other policies advocated by Hebert include support for the RecycleBank recycling incentive scheme and the need to address commercial and industrial waste.
He concluded: Delivering better performance on waste should not be hard. The technology is there. But it requires Ministers to set the right fiscal framework, make policy decisions in accordance with the waste hierarchy, act on C&I waste, get the incentives right, and above all make sure that Government has the ambition to do better.