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Strategy sets a course for failure

Keith Riley

Words, words, words. That’s the problem with documents such as the Government’s resources and waste strategy.

In my experience, to change the way people think and behave, you need to set a vision, set targets to monitor progress and develop the implementation plan. It can be a long pro­cess and needs persistence, engagement and consistency of approach.

But it seems to me that the strategy attempts to solve everything in a stroke: its sets the vision and leaps to the ‘do it’ while leaving out the bit in between.

The vision is for a circular economy (CE) and this is laid out well enough. But a CE is not just about recycling and waste: it also involves the entirety of production and consumption. So why confine it to a document entitled ‘resources and waste’ when it encompasses something that is much bigger and requires the engagement of the whole economy?

Simply by changing what we do about waste and resources will not on its own bring about a CE.

Following the publication of the strategy, the consultancy Tolvik put some quantification behind the words, publishing its report Filling the gap: the Future for Residual Waste in the UK.

Tolvik concluded that, by following the strategy, the amount of residual waste – that which will need to be disposed of – will by 2035 be 2-2.5 million tonnes more than previous projections. So, in short, Tolvik is predicting that the Government’s waste strategy will fail.

Of course it will – if nothing else is done. Achieving a CE is more than stopping waste crime or collecting food waste – as laudable as both may be. It needs follow up, engage­ment from other Government departments such as the Busi­ness, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the Treasury and Housing, Communities and Local Government – and, above all, investment.

“It seems to me that the waste strategy attempts to solve everything in a stroke: its sets the vision and leaps to the ‘do it’ while leaving out the bit in between.”

It must involve the commu­nity at large and not just the waste and resource sector. It requires changes in consumer behaviour and in the attitude towards infrastructure, espe­cially a recognition for the need for energy from waste. It seems to me that this is still lacking and there is nothing in the strategy to address it.

The Government can pat itself on the back for publish­ing a document that declares a vision. But it is years late in doing so, and I wonder if there is a real intent to drive the vision through.

We live in a society where much waste infrastructure is frowned upon and funding for anything other than the bare essentials is not available. So, while the strategy is welcomed, I am concerned that it may prove to be no more than words, words, words.

Keith Riley is an independent industry observer

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