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Chancellor told: 'don't tax incineration'

Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Mary Creagh has written to chancellor Philip Hammond urging him not to introduce an incineration tax in his forthcoming Budget.

Creagh set out her concerns in a keynote speech at the annual Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (Larac) conference in Nottingham.

She told delegates: “I have written to the chancellor calling on him not to introduce a tax on incineration.

“The experiences of other European countries do nothing to boost recycling rates or improve plastic packaging. It would drive up costs to councils and council tax payers. It could cause more waste to landfill.”

But she was pleased about rumours of a tax on chewing gum, which she said blighted many public places while the cost of cleaning fell on local authority budgets.

She also urged Defra to be more ambitious in its sustainability goals, calling for targets “set just the right side of impossible”.

Much of the focus of her speech was on expected fiscal measures from the chancellor on 29 October and, expected a few weeks later, Defra’s resource and waste strategy.

She praised Larac members for increasing the household recycling rate from single figures at the turn of the century to nearer 47%, but blamed an absence of policy direction in recent years for the stalling of rates.

But now, she said, waste and recycling were “on the agenda as never before”, and urged more ambition from Defra across the five sustainability ‘pillars’ it had identified.

Referring to a goal of zero avoidable waste by 2050, Creagh said: “I’ll be 83 and I’m not going to wait that long. We need to become resource-sufficient by then and I know you share my views on that.”

Repeating concerns expressed in her speech to RWM in September, she also criticised the Government’s commitment to phasing out avoidable plastic waste by 2042 as “unambitious” and wanted a worthwhile definition of “avoidable”.

But she was “excited” by Defra’s goal of stopping food waste going to landfill by 2030, and welcomed a £15m pilot announced by environment secretary Michael Gove at the Conservative Party conference to redistribute more of the food that is currently being disposed of by retailers and manufacturers. She pointed out that Company Shop and FareShare among others were already well established in this area.

While extended producer responsibility is expected to be a fundamental part of Defra’s strategy, Creagh was scathing about earlier versions of producer responsibility, including the packaging recovery note system.

“Twenty years after it was introduced, what has it achieved? Has it protected our streets, seas and fields from litter? It has not. Has it made packaging simpler and easier to recycle? It has not.”

She also urged greater action to tackle ‘freeloaders’ who avoid their obligations.

The MP was followed by Chris Preston, deputy director for waste and recycling at Defra, who confirmed that the department’s strategy would be published “this calendar year”.

He said innovation was key and the Government would be setting the framework to encourage it.

“Business is up for change,” Preston said, calling it a “misnomer” to suggest that you could not protect the environment and boost the economy at the same time.

The new policies offered “a huge opportunity to drive up resource efficiency” and “the landscape has changed in so many ways”, he added.

The EAC acts as a watchdog for the Government’s overall environmental record. Recent inquiries have included Chinese import restrictions, packaging, sustainable development goals and the fashion industry.

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