By now, we should have witnessed the launch of the resources and waste strategy. But the Government has had more pressing matters to deal with – such as its own survival. At the time of writing, prime minister Theresa May was fighting off challenges from backbench MPs as well as coping with two of her Cabinet colleagues resigning.
MRW understands the waste strategy will need to be reviewed by May’s office before going ahead, and it is unlikely to be released in November. Defra is still sticking to its line that the launch will be “before the end of the year”.
The plan for this issue was to cover the launch of the strategy in depth and feature environment secretary Michael Gove on the cover. This was thrown into disarray when, according to ‘confirmed sources’, Gove considered resigning from the Government.
As a prominent ‘leave’ campaigner in the EU referendum, Gove was also offered the role of Brexit secretary. Instead, he chose to remain as a member of the Cabinet and back May. The UK waste and resources industry then urged him to get on with the strategy.
Gove has been holding regular meetings with industry representatives ahead of the launch and has proved a widely popular secretary of state.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Suez Recycling and Recovery UK, said: “Michael Gove brings excellent leadership to Defra as it works towards achieving a circular economy in the UK. Defra must press ahead with its resources and waste strategy, and the anticipated fundamental reform of producer and packaging responsibility schemes.”
What we do know is there will be a tax on the manufacture and import of plastic packaging which has less than 30% recycled plastic content. This policy was outlined in chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget on 29 October.
Environmental Services Association executive director Jacob Hayler said: “The industry has long been calling for measures to support end markets for recycling. Without stimulating the demand for recycled material, higher recycling rates will be unachievable.”
But Hayler said he deplored the possibility of an incineration tax, which was not ruled out in the Budget, saying this “would only burden local authorities and industry without doing anything to support greater recycling”.
A Treasury briefing said incineration played a significant role in waste management but, in the long term, the Government was seeking to maximise the amount of waste sent to recycling.
It said: “Should wider policies not deliver the Government’s waste ambitions in the future, it will consider the introduction of a tax on the incineration of waste, operating in conjunction with landfill tax.”
“Defra must press ahead with its resources and waste strategy, and the anticipated fundamental reform of producer and packaging responsibility schemes.”
The Budget did not introduce a levy on disposable plastic cups, as had been hoped by some campaigners, but did stump up an extra £10m for councils to deal with abandoned waste sites.
We also learned that the Private Finance Initiative, which funds many waste management and energy-from-waste facilities, would be brought to an end once existing contracts have been honoured. Another certainty is that the waste strategy will outline plans to tackle organised waste crime, following the release of a review by Defra on 14 November.
In its response to the Budget, the Labour Party criticised the delay in implementation of the plastic tax, which will begin in 2022. It warned that an additional 700,000 tonnes of plastic packaging would be thrown away by then, including nearly 830 billion additional pieces of non-recyclable plastics.
Shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman said: “It is scandalous that additional plastic waste will devastate our environment while the Tories dither over even the most basic of measures.”
Meanwhile, Labour appointed Ipswich MP Sandy Martin as shadow waste and recycling minister. The brief was previously covered by David Drew but, in a statement, Labour said Martin was the “first ever ministerial or shadow position covering both waste and recycling”. This is understood to mean the first to have only that brief and not also include, for instance, air quality, as Therese Coffey does.
Drew told MRW that responsibility for drawing up a policy on incineration, which he said would be “much more sceptical” than current policy, has now been handed over to Martin.