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Government should lead by example

The past year was a successful one for the sustainable resources sector, with both the Government and industry making huge strides in many areas.

As co-chair of APSRG, it is immensely satisfying to see the UK taking important steps towards greater resource efficiency.

There have been many highlights, not least Defra’s call for evidence on the refuse-derived fuel (RDF) market, plastic bag levies being either introduced or promised in all areas of the UK and new efforts made to tackle waste crime.

I was particularly encouraged by the growing positive debate around remanufacturing and the role it can and must play in helping the UK to achieve important economic, environmental and social goals.

I am proud to say that APSRG published two reports on remanufacturing in 2014 and has in all its work stressed the need for the Government to support this industry if the UK is to move towards a circular economy. Our challenge for 2015 is to continue pressing both the Government and industry to ensure policies are put in place to realise its full potential.

There will be a general election in 2015 and therefore a new Government. As we build towards May, APSRG will work hard to ensure that resource efficiency, and remanufacturing specifically, is on the agenda of all political parties. The organisation is in no doubt that the next Government should lead by example and set clear procurement targets for remanufacturing, address the legal anomalies which currently act as barriers and realise the opportunities for providing highly skilled jobs.

Energy from waste has continued as a core element of the Government’s broader environmental objectives to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and help the UK achieve its renewable energy targets.

In December 2013, APSRG published a major report, Exporting Opportunity? Putting Uk Waste to Work at Home and Abroad, which called for Defra to launch a call for evidence on RDF, which it did in March. The consultation outcome was published on 1 December, alnd it showcased that the concerns of industry on the continuous exporting of this fuel to countries such as the Netherlands is being taken seriously by the department. This work is not over and APSRG will continue to push for improvements in this policy area during 2015.

Plastic carrier bags have been much discussed. The introduction of a 5p charge for all single-use plastic bags in England in October 2015, announced back in the summer, marks a strong step forward in reducing arisings of waste in England. Following the successes of Wales and Northern Ireland in reducing the usage of single-use bags and Scotland taking up the 5p charge in October 2014, the introduction of the charge in England is an excellent outcome. It should give the resource efficiency debate a real sense of momentum.

Waste crime in the UK remains widespread but we are pleased that the Government is now taking action. With the estimated annual cost of illegal waste sites, fly-tipping and landfill tax evasion exceeding £100m last year, the Government was right to intervene. Judges and magistrates in England and Wales began to hand out tougher sentences for those committing waste crimes.

This is a good start to combat this illegal activity but, looking to the next Parliament, tackling waste crime needs to remain a priority for resource policy and the Government needs to monitor the success of these tougher penalties closely.

The question of which department will focus on waste and resources will need to be addressed by the new Government. Calls for waste and resource management to be moved from Defra to BIS continue to rise and serious consideration needs to be given to this important potential step. The debate will be a key focus of work for ourselves and the Sustainable Resource Forum this year.

Much of what 2015 holds is for now uncertain. But what is certain is that, by the summer, ASPRG will be reformed with a number of new MPs joining to bring fresh impetus and support. This is standard practice for all all-party parliamentary groups following a general election – it is an important and exciting opportunity for us to renew ourselves and redouble our campaigning efforts.

But, before then, there is much work to be done. I for one cannot wait to get cracking.  

Barry Sheerman MP is co-chairman All-party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group

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