Defra has been urged to be more transparent about its analysis and potential policy options as it prepares its resources and waste strategy.
The call came from Ray Georgeson (pictured), chief executive of the Resource Association (RA), at the Resourcing The Future (RTF) conference in London.
He was speaking on a panel discussing materials and markets shortly after the launch of reports on the theme from the Green Alliance and the RTF partners WRAP, RA, Environmental Services Association and Chartered Institution of Wastes Management.
Referring to Defra’s historic position of not looking to intervene in secondary markets unless there was ‘market failure’, Georgeson said the two reports showed it was time “to stop being afraid of intervention”.
He called for more transparency on options being considered by Defra for its resources and waste strategy, due later this year, which is widely expected to include regulatory and fiscal measures that could drive secondary markets.
In particular he was keen to discuss the economic models and analysis underpinning the forthcoming strategy.
“We are not hearing about the analysis around markets. If it is been done, shout about it while there is time,” Georgeson urged Defra. “If that appetite [for legislation or taxation] is there, bring it on – that is what we need. Voluntary agreements will not do it on their own.”
He hoped the recent Plastic Pact, an industry-wide voluntary agreement organised by WRAP, would do well but warned that investors wanted security and could not rely solely on voluntary approaches.
Georgeson quoted plans in California for mandatory recycled content in packaging and offered to assess the scheme if Defra had not yet done so.
He was speaking shortly after a presentation on marine litter, at which delegates were told scientists estimated that 95% of northern fulmars [a sea bird] had waste plastic inside their guts.
“Northern fulmars with innards full of plastic is a market failure and we cannot let it continue,” he concluded.
Another panellist, Nick Cliffe, interim head of advanced materials at Innovate UK – a non-departmental public body which supports businesses to develop and realise new ideas – told the conference he expected funding for research into cutting plastic waste to be announced in 2019.
Cliffe said a particular challenge was knowing more about the flow of resources in the economy: “A key theme is around data – we don’t know how much material there is and what [businesses] are doing with it.”
Defra has been contacted for comment.