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Shift away from penalties is Spelman's key message to press

A move away from the stick and “disproportionate” penalties was the key message Secretary of State for Environment Caroline Spelman wanted to get over in a press briefing on the Waste Review, held earlier today.

But challenged by reporters on what this measure would actually achieve, Defra director for waste Neil Thornton said the point about reducing the level of fines for waste breaches - which could be up to £1,000 - was that it “spoiled the atmosphere” and public goodwill to recycle.

Asked by MRW how the Government thought the Waste Review document would help allay concerns in the industry that without tough targets and clear direction from Government, it was difficult for businesses in the sector to have the confidence to invest in new waste infrastructure and technology, Spelman replied: “We regard the waste industry as a growth industry with anticipated growth of 3-4% per annum and believe resources should not be buried in the ground. In our review today we show our move towards zero waste and that should encourage the waste industry.”

Elaborating further, Defra waste minister Lord Henley said: “The real uncertainty [in the waste/recycling industry] is in the price for recycled materials.” He added that if “local authorities and others can collect in the best form possible” that would deliver higher quality materials that would in turn command a higher value for businesses.

When quizzed on what was new in the Waste Review, Spelman said that waste had moved from being a “backmarker” to “front of pack” and the Government wanted to “accelerate our ability to recycle more and move up the waste hierarchy”.  She said progress had been made in voluntary deals and “signalling our intention to consult on a ban on wood to landfill with other materials to follow”.

Landfill bans had been proposed by the previous Government, and initially dismissed by the present Government as being something it was “not minded” to do. On the u-turn, Spelman said: “The purpose of a review is to listen to all stakeholder concerns. We listened to these with regard to landfill bans and decided it was right to make a decision that as a resource of considerable value we would move to consulting on a ban on wood to landfill. We will also look at biowaste, textiles and metals.”

Asked why the review was lacking in targets, Spelman replied: “There are [EU] targets to increase recycling rates.” While Lord Henley reiterated the Government’s carrot rather than stick approach and said it was “not the right way to go, to include targets in this”.

Instead, Spelman said the Government had “removed barriers” to weekly waste collections and that a new Recycling and Waste Service Commitment would help councils “design services to respond to local views”. She added that Government would “support local authorities that want to provide more frequent and high quality services”.  And she flagged up that the review contained measures to help SMEs to recycle their business waste. (Read more on the Waste Review’s key points here.)

On the Government’s stance on energy from waste (EfW) and incineration in particular, Lord Henley said: “EfW is not only incineration and AD. It is something we would like to see grow more and there are also technologies such as gasification and pyrolysis, which are in their infancy at this stage but in due course are likely to provide more [in terms of EfW capacity]. Incineration as a form of EfW is not what you thought it was and I don’t think you should be negative about EfW. It is important to note that EfW is at the bottom of the waste hierarchy but where appropriate we should seek to get energy from it.”

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