New resource minister Rory Stewart has praised the work of the waste management sector and said he wants to spend time listening before committing himself to specific policies.
Stewart delivered the keynote speech at the opening of the annual conference of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and the Environmental Services Association. This year, for the first time, it was also hosted by the Resource Association.
Stewart said the UK waste industry, employing 103,000 people, was a remarkable one and innovation set it apart. He said it was a “global leader”.
He spoke of an awareness of the need for effective waste management, citing his experiences while working in Afghanistan. He said he had helped clear streets in Kabul of waste 7ft deep. In doing so, he said, they noted the effect on the wider community in terms of employment and health.
“I want to make the UK the best country in the world for recycling,” he said.
The European Commission’s current consultation on a Circular Economy (CE) package will result in policies for member states, and Stewart said he wanted to hear what the UK sector thought before the Government framed its own response.
“We have to make sure that whatever the [European] commission comes up with is right for the UK,” he said. “Trying to rush out with targets that I don’t think we can meet gets us in trouble.”
The minister would not be drawn on a commitment to banning food from landfill, saying that organic material should only be sent to landfill as a last resort, and he wanted to hear the industry’s views on an outright ban.
He added: “We will be looking not just at the amount of waste we generate but the amount of waste that we prevent”.
Stewart said an additional £4.2m had been allocated to tackling waste crime and he was looking to enhance the powers of the Environment Agency in order to allow the body to take “appropriate action” when necessary.
The extra powers would specifically target the closing of illegal sites and sharing intelligence with HMRC to reduce tax avoidance.
“The estimated cost of waste crime to the UK economy is about £538m a year,” said Stewart.
He concluded by calling for the industry to “relentlessly” hold him and his officials to account and submit any ideas that could improve the industry holistically.
Earlier, CIWM president John Quinn said he had made the CE the theme for his year in office, and felt that the industry’s resources should be put at the disposal of the Government to help deliver targets and the CE.
— Paul Vanston (@PaulVanston) June 24, 2015
Question to Rory Stewart MP - What does ‘good’ look like ?, answer — up with the best of other countries !! #RTF15
— S Hayward-Higham (@stuhhigh_SUEZ) June 24, 2015