Michael Gove’s recent speech, in which the environment secretary confirmed that Defra’s 25-year Environment Plan will be delivered and made reference to a “renewed” waste and resource management strategy, is welcome. And both pieces of work are needed.
While the 25-year plan may provide the vision and leadership that is required, there has been concern across the waste sector that it may be light on detail. This would be a genuine missed opportunity on a number of fronts.
Sustainable economic growth is not just about labour productivity. The management, availability and efficient use of resources will be critical to future UK industrial competitiveness and resilience. It is about health and amenity: waste crime and pollution blight communities, damage the environment and threaten livelihoods.
It is also fundamental to our society on a daily basis. Waste collection and recycling is a defining factor in people’s relationships with councils, and a growing awareness about resources and waste influences our behaviour as consumers.
Responding to these challenges and opportunities requires an ambitious strategy, holistic decision making, investment in services and infrastructure, and clear links to other major pieces of policy including the Industrial Strategy and the Clean Growth Plan.
Irrespective of Brexit, the reality is that this policy area has been left to languish for too long, certainly in England. Progress on food waste collection, for example, is slow but renewable energy in the form of waste-derived biogas has a role to play in decarbonising our energy and transport.
National and local planning systems do not take a strategic approach to delivering the infrastructure for greater resource efficiency, but better use of secondary materials can support economic development and lead to tens of thousands of net new jobs.
Colin Church is chief executive at CIWM