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The Government must recognise: it’s the green economy, stupid

Andrew Hartley on the Government’s announcement of a waste review

The big issue of the general election was cutting the deficit. It hangs over most discussions on public policy right now, permeating debates on everything from health and education to defence and overseas development. Environmental policy is no exception, and it is good to hear that the Government is committed to cuts here too. Cuts, that is, to carbon emissions and the amount of waste we generate.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman must now set the policies to do that and explain exactly what action the Government will take. First, there is to be a review of existing waste policies in a bid to deliver zero waste. It is vital that this is done quickly to continue to build on the hard-won confidence of our sector.

Former WRAP chief executive Jennie Price used an analogy which I think is worth remembering here: every time something good is done in the sector, another brick is added to a wall of confidence. When something goes wrong we think we are taking one brick out of the wall but, in reality, it’s like bursting a balloon: confidence is lost and we have to start again.

“Get the policies right and we can make a marked difference in balancing the UK’s books”

So the new Government must be quick to review and put into place policies and actions to continue to build that wall of confidence. Get it right, and we can continue with the good things and turn around the areas that need attention to build our low-carbon economy. People are starting to get it. We all know that the sector has massive potential. For example, in Yorkshire and Humber alone, we at CO2Sense Yorkshire have been charged with bringing £15.5m of gross value added to the regional economy by 2012 through the creation of jobs and growth in our sector.

Spelman’s speech also covered commercial and industrial waste. There has been a focus on this for a while now, particularly about increasing the role of local authorities. But the resources have not been put in place to make them take responsibility.

In respect of food waste and packaging, a lot has been achieved, especially by the big retail players. Spelman rightly says everyone in the supply chain needs to communicate better with consumers and business to enhance public consciousness.

On planning, few would argue with a call to streamline the process. I can think of one example where an energy-from-waste site was held up for 12 years in the system, even though it was on derelict brownfield land. “A presumption in favour of sustainable development” must be welcomed.

Support needs to be in place to grow the entire sector. And that means for supply as well as demand. CO2Sense, for example, works to grow the capacity of those providing recycling services, but also promotes the benefits of recycling to SMEs by pointing out the benefits and making it easy for them.

Spelman says the review will “maximise the contribution which waste and recycling industries make to the UK economically and environmentally”. That should be music to our sector’s ears. Our sector has a bright future and its contribution to the economy can only increase. Get the policies and actions right and we can make a marked difference in balancing the country’s books. It’s the green economy, stupid.

Andrew Hartley is operations director at CO2Sense Yorkshire

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