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Industry sceptical after one year of coalition Government

The waste industry has offered a lukewarm appraisal of the Government’s handling of waste and recycling issues in its first year of power.

The waste industry has offered a lukewarm appraisal of the Government’s handling of waste and recycling issues in its first year of power.

Commenting on the first anniversary of the coalition Government, industry figures are particularly sceptical of the Government’s localist approach to waste policy, its failure to set new packaging waste targets and the “incoherence” of environmental policy being made from both Defra and the Department for energy and climate change (DECC).

360 Environmental director Phil Conran told MRW: “Clearly the Government are just trying to change as little as possible at the moment while they presumably deal with the bigger priority issues. This means it does sometimes undermine the previous efforts which were achieving quite good results.

“[In terms of the] packaging regulations, it was certainly a mistake to leave targets as they were from the marketplace’s point of view, but they also approached this ‘end of waste’ issue in quite a strange way. They haven’t really consulted industry and understood the implications. It’s almost as though they really don’t care too much about the packaging regulations at the moment and I wonder whether or not this is a precursor to a wider range of issues that they’re going to tackle in the review, or actually whether it’s a symptom of the fact that waste isn’t an issue for them.”

Former sustainable development commission chair Jonathon Porritt strongly criticised the Government’s “antipathy to setting targets” in a report for Friends of the Earth entitled The Greenest Government Ever: One Year On.

Porritt wrote: “It has already been made clear that there will be no additional regulatory burdens either on local authorities or on businesses, with the emphasis entirely on voluntary measures.

“Defra Ministers have also decided (after fierce lobbying from the department for Business, Innovation and Skills) not to raise the targets for reducing packaging waste – a highly regrettable step that threatens to weaken the value of the “recovery notes” on which this particular market mechanism depends.

“Meanwhile, Defra is waging another battle with Eric Pickles at the department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), whose relentless bullying of local authorities to revert to weekly waste collections threatens not only to slow or even reduce rates of recycling, but to add additional costs to local authorities of at least half a billion pounds over four years.”

Sita UK external affairs director Gev Eduljee commented that England continues to be “rather timid” in its hesitation towards banning waste from landfill and voiced concern over the impact of localism on the waste industry.

He said: “The localism agenda could result in fragmentation of waste infrastructure delivery in the absence of a strong overarching strategy - it is too early to say. Government has been inconsistent in its support for carrots as opposed to diktats - witness the directive from DCLG on weekly collections, which goes against the grain of localism.”

However, Edjuljee welcomed the continued support for the renewable heat incentive (RHI), the feed-in tariffs and the attention the Government has taken over the waste review.

He added: “All incoming governments want to take stock, and then put their particular stamp on the flavour and direction of policy. To that extent, the waste review was inevitable. The open-ended nature of the terms of reference suggest that there were no radical pre-conceptions waiting in the wings, and on that basis it is most likely that the general thrust of waste policy in England will remain broadly unchanged. In the meantime, given the long gestation of the waste review, it has generally been “business as usual” for operators at the coalface.”

This is a sentiment echoed by Whitehouse Consultancy senior consultant Carl Thomson, who told MRW: “The coalition agreement’s waste aims were very broad and that makes it difficult to measure progress. Working towards a zero waste society, it is a very difficult thing to measure your progress in achieving that in a period of 12 months. It’s taking a lot of time to make sure it gets the fundamental basics right.

He added that the Government needed a more integrated approach between DECC, DCLG and Defra, who were all dealing with different elements of the waste and recycling agenda

:“What we really need to see from the review is how that all comes together and how we have a coherent strategy. The problem the Government has is that it’s dealing with everything on a piece-by-piece basis and there’s quite a bit of policy uncertainty about where it’s going to lead and what the regulatory environment’s going to be like.”

Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) principal policy officer Andrew Craig had mixed views: “Local authorities need to be able to respond to local conditions and possibilities.  Incentives by themselves are not enough to engage everyone with recycling and waste minimisation – there need to be sanctions in law that local authorities can apply as a last resort to ensure that all take part.

“PFI has driven municipal waste management down a route of mass burn, energy from waste.  Unfortunately this is the technology of the 1990s and not so relevant to the challenge of developing the ‘resources based’ economy of the 2010s.  To take out PFI is, in the longer term, a correct move.  However, how it was done, pulling the plug on projects to which local authorities and waste management companies had already committed a considerable amount of resource, was unhelpful.” 

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