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Austerity is ignored in waste debate

Carole Taylor

2018 looks like it could be quite a dramatic year for our indus­try, so it is both a daunting and exciting time to be taking on the role of chair at Larac.

When my predecessor Andrew Bird began his tenure, the big issue was ‘teep’, a test for justifying commingled household collections. How times have changed – despite the fact that the sector has not seen any meaningful policy in the past four years.

The general public seem to be more engaged in waste than they have been for a while, due mainly to the power of the media. Straws, coffee cups and plastics have become targets for action – and politicians have been quick to pick up on it, as can be seen by the prom­inence marine plastics had in Defra’s recent 25-year environ­ment plan.

But the danger is that deci­sions and policies are made in a rush. Talks of a deposit return scheme (DRS), packag­ing reform and a new Defra resources and waste strategy later this year are both wel­comed but concerning.

Are we in danger of making change in order to be seen to be making change – or will that change set a solid foundation on which progress in the next 10 years can be made?

In all the discussions, there is a glaring omission that if not addressed will hamper any future recycling ambitions: no one, other than Larac, appears to be willing to talk about the funding situation facing coun­cil waste and recycling ser­vices.

Many people may have for­gotten that we are still in the grip of austerity measures, and councils have been trying to manage the effects for several years now. The reality is that large savings still have to be found to balance diminishing budgets, and some of these savings have to come from recycling budgets.

public waste services

Discussions about a DRS and packaging reform do not seem to consider how we bring about a fundamental change in funding public waste ser­vices. Without that open and honest debate, there is the potential that aspirations for greater recycling will be ham­pered or restricted, and the UK will undo all the hard work that councils and others have done to increase recycling rates in the past 15 years.

Larac is looking to start that debate because we feel strongly it needs to happen, and we are looking to the rest of the industry to engage. It is in the interests of the entire material supply chain that the vital role in collections that councils play is recognised and supported fully.

Carole Taylor is Chair of Larac

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