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Zero out of 10 for the government's waste policy

Labour’s shadow waste minister Gavin Shuker marks Zero Waste Week with a call on the government to assert positive policies for the sector.

Despite making a big play on the environment in opposition, the gap between ministerial action and rhetoric is increasingly stark. There is a complete lack of political leadership on waste and resources, as Defra back-pedals away on the commitment to become a zero waste economy.

With growth forecasts slashed not just this year but next year too, David Cameron and George Osborne should now admit their economic plan has failed. Environmental and low carbon industries have a key role to play in rebuilding our economy, creating new jobs and laying the foundations for the sustainable growth in the decades to come.

We need to start valuing the resources around us. The UK still puts more than half its waste to landfill. It can’t continue. To make a change there are things individuals can do; but there are steps that only Government can take.

When money is tight, government has a critical role to play in setting out the ambitions and parameters for investments, and creating a level playing field through fair regulation and providing political leadership on issues like climate change. Defra Ministers should be using their policy muscle to provide certainty for investors and to make up for their lack of financial clout.

When in office, Labour committed to the United Kingdom becoming a zero waste nation. This Government has abandoned that target, and left England with the weakest recycling target in the UK. As a result, Britain will just scrape over the bar - merely meeting the legal European target of 50% of household waste recycled by 2020.

Labour has never been afraid of providing industry the right messages and incentives to drive down the amount of waste sent to landfill. In office we introduced the landfill tax escalator, a key part of our pervious waste policy, which has which has progressively driven behaviour change.

As part of Labour’s policy review, we’ve been working with the waste and resources industry to develop an ambitious waste strategy, focused on delivering growth and jobs in a low waste nation.  What has become very clear is that to achieve a ‘zero waste economy’ we need to shift our mindsets from ‘waste’ to ‘resources’.

Our waste is, in most cases, representative of a precious and finite resource. This access to valuable resources is a cornerstone of sustainable growth, now and in the years to come. Today we are shipping jobs abroad because investors lack the confidence to invest in infrastructure to recycle high quality glass, plastic and paper. Keeping valuable feedstocks here, on our shores, is the surest way to the growth of this exciting manufacturing industry.

The Environmental Services Association predicts that some £15bn must be invested the waste sector by 2030. The Treasury believes that 70% of this overall investment in the waste sector should come from the private sector.

This summer I have been visiting innovative businesses throughout the UK willing to step up to this challenge. But I have also seen many companies who want to invest in their own sustainability - or develop new recycling technologies - and heard how government uncertainty is holding them back. The Tory-led government’s decision to unlawfully slash solar support shows that they are willing to play fast and loose with investor certainty.

So during Zero Waste Week, I will examine what more I can do in my home and office to cut down on waste. But I will also challenge this Tory-Led Government to take action now so we can together achieve zero waste.

Gavin Shuker MP is Labour’s shadow minister for waste

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