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Don’t neglect sense and sustainability

The Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) latest report, Growing a Circular Economy, was shot through with common sense, suggesting that those representatives of our sector who gave evidence during the past three months had hit the mark. There is no dogma in the overarching conclusions.

The MPs reasonably point out that the consumption of resources in our economy is not sustainable and circular approaches to waste reuse makes economic as well as environmental sense.

There is recognition that minsters understand the opportunity for being much smarter with materials and the “potentially billions of pounds” of benefits that could be accrued to the UK. There is also recognition that they support a number of initiatives in this policy area. But then there is the killer: “Instead of [the Government] scaling up its work, it is cutting back. Its approach lacks leadership.”

The comment has two halves. The first is not a startling observation because the infamous ‘Rogerson letter’ from the incoming resource minister last year included the following: “Defra will not have the capacity to take forward new policy work in areas such as commercial and industrial waste and construction and demolition waste.” The EAC report notes that innovative businesses have, to some extent, stepped into the gap and, ultimately, that may be the best way forward.

The second, though, is more challenging, with the real issue being where does that leadership come from? The EAC’s 11 core recommendations address areas regulated by Defra and the departments of business and science, energy and climate change, communities, and local government. A proposal for differential VAT rates depending on the recycled content of manufactured products would be the gift of the Treasury.

Support has to come from the very top of our political parties. With an election now only nine months away, this is real chance for an administration to appeal to voters by trumpeting environmental strategies that boost the economy. Done right, it’s a win-win.

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