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Industry needs a Whitehall champion

It’s been quite a few days for waste management in the UK.

First, another big waste project had the financial rug pulled from under it by Defra’s decision to cut PFI credits from Veolia’s Hatfield scheme. Then watchdog MPs on the Efra committee took apart Defra’s strategy – if that’s the right word – in managing England’s route to meeting its household recycling target of 50% by 2020.

In between, the sector’s favourite politician Eric Pickles tightened the grip of the communities’ department on the development of waste facilities in the Green Belt. There was also MRW’s discovery that the metal theft taskforce is now a rump of four officers. But, more positively, there was a warm welcome in Belfast on Tuesday for John Quinn, the 99th president of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM).

Not unreasonably, Defra will need time to respond in detail to the two dozen or so conclusions and recommendations in the Efra committee report, Waste Management in England, which was published on Wednesday. There has to be sympathy with a straitened department and its agencies that are expected to do more with less, and which are led by politicians who, generally, think of direction and regulation perjoratively as ‘red tape’ and to be avoided.

But a stream of witnesses including the CIWM, the Environmental Services Association, WRAP and the National Farmers’ Union – plus dozens of contributors in writing – highlighted the issues they thought were hampering any growth in England’s recycling rates. The MPs on the committee are not dupes and, on being told repeatedly of the need for more involvement from Whitehall, concluded that “Defra should take the lead role and responsibility for waste management policy and ensure that the value of waste as a resource is fully realised”. We agree.

The CIWM’s new president said there were four key areas where the organisation could make a contribution: communication, knowledge, skills and influence. Quinn said his fellow members can bring the different parts of industry together by championing and communicating the role that the sector plays in collecting, sorting and reprocessing quality secondary materials. A brighter end to a blustery week in the world of resource management.

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