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When business as usual is not good enough

Lately, we have heard frequent calls from our sector for more government leadership and CIWM has not been alone in signalling a desire for a more ambitious vision for waste.  It is no surprise, therefore, that our conference delegates last week echoed the sentiment. Asked if the lack of a formal plan and vision for waste, building on the Waste Strategy 2007, was holding England back, the vote was a resounding yes.

Lately, we have heard frequent calls from our sector for more government leadership and CIWM has not been alone in signalling a desire for a more ambitious vision for waste.  It is no surprise, therefore, that our conference delegates last week echoed the sentiment. Asked if the lack of a formal plan and vision for waste, building on the Waste Strategy 2007, was holding England back, the vote was a resounding yes.

Is it naïve to want a clear strategic vision given the deep budget cuts faced by Defra and the Coalition Government’s preference for letting the market decide? I don’t think so. Governments around the world are recognising the value of material resources and the need to keep them working for both economic and environmental gain. China, for example, has a five-year circular economy plan and closer to home, we have very clear policies from the Welsh and Scottish Governments, with Northern Ireland following closely behind.

Yet here we are in England with no waste strategy, no national targets, the waste planning landscape still in limbo, and an unresolved debate about whether we have enough infrastructure to meet our 2020 EU obligations.

This is not a sector that whinges for the sake of it; the UK waste industry has shown itself to be more than capable of ‘getting on with job’ and delivering remarkable progress in the last decade. It is, however, a plea for a more coherent vision of where we want to go next and how to get there.

The second vote last week is a prime example of the fundamental questions we think the Government should be asking, namely “Is it time to move from recycling to residual waste targets?”. Certainly our delegates believed that it is and their frustration may be a strong signal that as an industry, we feel that ‘business as usual’ is quite simply not good enough anymore.

Steve Lee, chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM)

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