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Developing a policy to be more political

The growing political maturity of the waste sector has much in evidence in the recent news events reported by MRW.

We have seen DS Smith’s ‘supply cycle’ approach to the circular economy; FCC Environment’s assessment of the political landscape; and agreement between the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) to establish Resources & Waste UK (RWUK) as an ‘industry champion’.

An outsider would be forgiven for thinking this would be routine fare with a general election less than six months away. But no such activity was reported by MRW in late 2009, and those I spoke to at the launch of RWUK were proud of the extent to which industry leaders are collaborating to engage policy makers.

That may be a frustrating activity when policy makers are not desperate to engage with the industry, but that is another matter.

The CIWM and ESA are adamant that RWUK will mean a more forceful sector presence. When I asked a retired civil servant whether representation on any issue from a single source (RWUK) was preferable to two (ESA/CIWM), I was told that one was definitely more challenging, especially as canny officials would often play one lobbyist off against another. It will be interesting to see the impact in the coming months.

BBC Radio 4’s File On Four programme last week rammed home the need for such a voice to be heard. Its excellent Dirty Secrets episode highlighted the growing menace of waste crime - the scale of the problem, the economics driving it, the involvement of organised gangs, the level of sentencing and the battle by the Environment Agency (EA) to halt the tide.

It was a shame this balanced report did not have a Defra spokesman (“no-one was available”), although a statement did mention the EA’s £5m cash injection and the recent review of sentencing guidelines.

We must hope that the EA’s final comment that it was “starting to win the war”, seemingly against the odds, turns out to be the case. You can catch Dirty Secrets on the programme’s website.

Finally, it will be the end of an era when Barry Dennis retires as director general of the ESA next month after more than 50 years in the waste business. MRW wishes him the very best.

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