I know this is a truism, but the waste industry is going through a very bad time at the moment. Just look at everything it has to contend with.
The general public, bless them, continue to harbour suspicions that any change of service or new waste infrastructure development is being imposed by faceless corporations who don’t care what the locals think as long as they make a quick profit. This view is reinforced by the attitude of the popular press, which revels in stories about slop buckets, plagues of flies and the ‘bin police’.
Of course, this is nothing new. However, the industry now also has some new challenges to face, resulting from a change of government. For a start, the planning system for major projects is again up in the air. We’d only just started to understand the requirements of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), designed to speed up the time from planning to completion, and now the new government has declared that this organisation will be abolished. While projects currently going through IPC procedures will continue, we do not yet know what the implications are for new projects – leading to uncertainty and delay.
To date, there has been very little clarity on what is expected and what support the waste industry is likely to have at policy level. What we do know is that regional development frameworks are being thrown out. That means there is no longer any certainty about new housing levels – and therefore waste management requirements. This removes one of the major ‘need’ arguments that are so crucial in persuading people to accept that waste management projects are necessary and justifiable in their area.
We also face the prospect of handing even more influence to ‘local people’ to decide on major developments. Experience tells us that the public will never want any major infrastructure built close to their homes, be it a runway extension, a high speed rail link or a residual waste treatment facility. Taken all together, the industry’s chances of developing necessary waste infrastructure seem to be getting slimmer by the day.
Yet if the waste industry is feeling unloved and misunderstood, what is it going to do about it? The industry has adopted a victim mentality for far too long and often appears too afraid to stand up and challenge myths and misinformation when it is getting a bad press or meets with opposition to a new development proposal.
It’s time to stop being the whipping boy for everything negative that is connected with waste and start getting our own positive messages across. Unless we stand up for ourselves, no-one else is going to – not the politicians, the press or the public. Let’s get out there and demonstrate in our communications the same determination and sense of purpose that has enabled the industry to develop the waste management infrastructure we already have. We’ve already achieved so much, despite the odds. Isn’t it about time we told someone?