Philip Reynolds reports from a Westminster event held just before the waste review was published
At last week’s Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum event ‘The Future of UK Waste Policy’, the waste review was the phrase on every speaker’s lips. Although the Government’s review had not yet been published at the time of the conference, discussion of the future of UK waste policy inevitably led speakers to give their thoughts ahead of its publication.
In his remarks, industry expert Paul Levett said: “I don’t think the Government should put anything in without consultation because we can get unintended consequences. I think the Government should be technology-neutral.”
He added that he expected to see carbon targets and a faster planning system. He said: “I think the Government needs to fund the Environment Agency for enforcement against fly-tipping, I think the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme is now irrelevant, commercial and industrial communal bins might be a way forward if you can address the duty of care issues, and I would like to see waste become a cross-party consensus rather than a political issue.”
Defra director of climate, waste and atmosphere Neil Thornton declined to reveal specific information about the content of the review, but discussed its place in the continuing development of waste policy in England.
He said: “[In addition to the review], we also have commit-ments on voluntary agreements, where we can work with relevant parts of the private sector to recognise that most waste policies are not made by us in Defra sending instructions to the world - they are made in the marketplace, in a community, between industrial and commercial players, individual consumers and householders.
“I would like to see waste become a cross-party consensus rather than a political issue”
“Although we think we will be giving you a useful, constructive, coherent set of review policies from this Government, that is not the end of the story. We are not going to say ‘that’s all sorted now’. There are going to be all sorts of areas where we need to develop this, study more of that or you told us we’ve still not got our act together. There is going to be a lot of engagement with the industry in the follow up to the waste review.”
British Retail Consortium head of environment Bob Gordon called for leadership from the waste review. “We need to see not just a vision - we have that certainly with the zero waste economy - we need to see the things that underpin that. We need to see strategy, level of ambition and we need to see policy. Without those things, it can be an empty promise,” he said.
“If we look to Wales and Scotland, we see similar levels of ambition. There is an ambitious policy framework, with ambitious targets, with support for more consistent collection from local authorities’ food waste in Wales. And there are policy commitments on carrier bags and bottle deposits.
“Regardless of what you think of those policies, there is a leadership role being taken. I certainly believe that Defra wants to take a similar leadership role and wants to put those kinds of policies in place. But I think there are real challenges for [the department] in the current policy and political landscape, such as funding cuts and the localism agenda.
“There is quite a challenge to get a leadership strategy out there, while allowing local authorities autonomy in their activities.”
But the Government came under fire from the first session’s chairman, environment, food and rural affairs select committee member Barry Gardiner MP, who called for clarity from the forthcoming review.
“The one thing every business wants is clarity. It wants to know that if it is going to put the investment into the capacity to deal with this, is the Government going to be true to what it says and enable it to make returns on the basis of its investment?” he said. “Therefore a clear regulatory framework is absolutely essential. We [have to] get this right and produce a framework that the public and businesses in particular know is not going to be subject to shifting goalposts, of the sort that we have seen from the Government during the past year.”