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Well intentioned but needing targets

The industry’s year may not have gone out with a bang with Defra’s waste prevention programme for England, but it would be wrong to label Prevention is Better than Cure a whimper - although those who had low expectations of Defra’s ambition were not disappointed.

But resource minister Dan Rogerson and his officials can take comfort from a broad consensus with Defra’s provisional position during the consultation in the summer (between 68% and 72% of respondents were in favour).

After his ‘policy retreat’ letter to stakeholders in October, Rogerson reaffirmed the Government’s desire “to get out of people’s hair” and set guidelines for the market, businesses, councils and others to make the changes themselves towards a more circular and sustainable economy.

As he put it: “It hinges on everyone playing their part, building partnerships to seize the opportunities that exist… This programme is a step on the path.”

An absence of targets is probably the more obvious aspect for criticism, especially when they are writ large in the plans produced by the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

The English version says that imposing targets without fully understanding their implications could weaken efforts to restore economic growth and undermine the voluntary actions of industry. So why was that body of work not done when the UK had plenty of time to produce the programme?  

What is certainly welcome is Defra’s desire to help the public sector, starting with the NHS, to reduce its waste, by exploring opportunities to be made from waste prevention strategies.

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