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2013 Review - Ray Georgeson

What a busy year it has been – and yet in policy terms it feels like the year that didn’t happen.

What with the recent announcement from Defra of the downgrading of waste policy work within the Department, the low expectations of the ambition of the English waste prevention plan, flatlining of recycling rates in England, and Defra’s recent indication of resistance to higher targets from the European Commission’s waste review it’s not been a vintage year. 

An astrologer might say that Defra’s year has had Mercury in permanent retrograde!  To top all that, we still await the MRF Regulations..

Gaps have widened at several levels. The gap in policy ambition between Wales and Scotland contrasted to England became starker with every passing month, although it must be said that both still have a way to go in implementation to match their policy ambition – but must be applauded for their genuine efforts. 

Elsewhere, there emerged a huge gap between the day to day reality of some of our industry: fires, accidents and fatalities, illegal exports, contaminated recyclates, compared to the high flying rhetoric of the world of the circular economy: new business models, leasing, repair, reuse and remanufacturing.

I’m all for looking forward and striving for innovation and ambition – goodness knows we need it – but I do worry that this year in particular we’ve seen the recycling baby being thrown out with the circular economy bathwater as some of our leaders and thinkers rewrite their strategies way ahead of the current constraints the industry finds itself under.

Those in Defra and WRAP that think that ‘recycling market development is done’  - and I have heard those words – would do well to think again and challenge themselves hard on how they further support the hard won gains of the recycling industries and remember again that recycling doesn’t happen without an end product.  This is the essential core of the circular economy and in 2013 there was a danger that this was forgotten.

The lack of a clear eco-industrial strategy in 2013 brings this into sharp focus for me, made even more sensitive by the latent anti-Europeanism in parts of our Government and body politic. Industry can and will play its part, but Government must also lead and not be afraid of intelligent intervention to shape and nurture markets.

In many ways it was a flat year – 2014 with its European focus (to be used and abused) will provide fireworks by comparison.

Ray Georgeson, chief executive, Resource Association

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