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Minister will need all the agility he can muster

I’m writing this ahead of the annual RWM with CIWM event at the NEC from 15-17 September and considering how times are tough for many in the industry.

Councils and their commercial partners are having to cope with rock-bottom prices for their recycled materials, causing strains between the two. We have already seen Suez pulling out of Thurrock, and now Middlesbrough has taken back a contract with Biffa because the cost of enhanced sorting to boost quality, and therefore the value of the recyclates, was too much for the council.

Our scrap metal dealers continue to paint a sorry picture of their markets, with prices falling again from record lows. The lower price of oil continues to dog the plastics sector. Gear changes in Government policy on renewables have caused shock waves in the vibrant anaerobic digestion sector. The recovered paper industry seems better placed, however, as we report in our latest market review, although DS Smith is consulting on closing a mill.

Despite all this, resource minister Rory Stewart adopted a very chipper approach in a special interview recorded for RWM. I asked the questions in an office next to his own (he was locked out of that - more shortly).

The waste sector has been a success story, he insists at the start and, in general terms, it is difficult to disagree. What is harder to square is his faith that better messaging, fewer regulations and greater enforcement will be enough and achievable under his Government department (Defra) that is about to be savaged in the autumn spending review. But Stewart is an optimist and he might just overcome such hurdles.

Back to the interview. The reason it was in an adjoining office was because he had been inadvertently locked out of his own. I have no reason to disbelieve his version of events which meant that, to gain access, he climbed out on to the window sill (on the fifth floor!), crossed a ledge and went in through the window of his own office. But he could not get out through the door so, undaunted, he clambered back.

I share this anecdote in admiration rather than alarm about Stewart’s charming lack of self-preservation. Who knows - perhaps he has the agility to help our sector progress in the years ahead.

See you at RWM!

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