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How will the next UK Government tackle waste?

By the time you read this we may know the colour of the new Government although, if all that hung-parliament speculation was right, it may still not be clear.   

The slogans were too close to call. Labour went with ‘A Future Fair for All’, the Conservatives, ‘Vote for Change’ and the Lib Dems hedged their bets with ‘Change that works for you: Building a Fairer Britain’.  Do we want ‘fair’ or ‘change’? Or both?

But what does each of the parties really stand for and how did their policy promises on waste and recycling shape up?

The manifestos contained very little of substance on waste, making it difficult to choose between them. I found it hard to get any sense of vision or strategy from any of the parties. That said, all three pledged to cut or eliminate waste to landfill and all harboured aspirations to make this a ‘zero-waste’ Britain.

The Tory manifesto pledged to “puta floor under the standard rate of landfill tax until 2020 to encourage alternative forms of waste disposal”. What exactly is proposed here? Landfill tax is rising by £8 per year until 2013 and presumably will continue to rise after that. Nobody is proposing that landfill tax should start decreasing post-2013. So surely “a floorunder the standard rate of landfill tax” will do little to contribute.

The only other thing on waste in their manifesto was the slightly tenuous “incentives to go green… while scrappingLabour’s plans for new bin taxes”. Whatever you call it, it’s the same thing. We’re talking about differential pricing on household waste collection.

Labour jumped the gun somewhat with a manifesto pledge to “ban recyclable and biodegradable materials from landfill”. The UK Governments are currently consulting on proposals to ban materials from landfill, so it was unnerving to see a pledge to ban certain materials from landfill when it’s not yet been agreed that this is the most appropriate approach.

The Lib Dems talked of “less packaging, more recycling, and a huge increase in anaerobic digestion to generate energy from food and farm waste”. What was less clear was what they were actually proposing to do. We’ve seen massive strides on cutting packaging, particularly under the Courtauld Commitment, and household waste recycling rates have increased 10 fold over the last decade. Everyone is talking about anaerobic digestion. What they will do is “set targets for zero waste” to reduce reliance on landfill. But what will setting targets achieve without additional action and support? 

Perhaps I’m asking too much. Perhaps we’re already well on the way to being a ‘zero-waste’ society that has minimised waste generation and maximised recovery of unavoidable waste. And, to be fair, when we look at wider policy documents there is substance. All of the main parties would seek to reduce waste generated and increase recovery, in line with the waste hierarchy. There’s broad agreement on achieving greater resource efficiency and maximising the use of waste as a resource. 

It’s vital that the future Government’s strategy creates a policy framework that supports the development of a waste management structure, thus enabling businesses and consumers to easily manage their waste responsibly.

Retailers made fantastic strides over the course of the last Parliament. In particular, they helped consumers to reduce their impact by significantly reducing packaging; halving the number of carrier bags distributed over three years; providing additional recycling facilities at stores and improving recycling information for consumers via the On-Pack Recycling Label. If we maintain our current pace in improving the way we manage our waste, we’ll be a ‘zero-waste’ country soon enough.

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