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Coffey rejects mandatory measures on food waste

Resources minister Therese Coffey repeatedly ruled out a mandatory approach to tackling food waste in England when she was questioned by MPs in Westminster.

therese coffey and chris preston

therese coffey and chris preston

She told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that her preference was to “work with councils” to find solutions for tackling food waste from households and identify barriers.

She also ruled out introducing legislation requiring businesses to report food surpluses and waste, saying it was “not part of our philosophy” and that she was not sure what such a measure would achieve.

Asked why the Government had not introduced a mandatory national food waste reduction target, Coffey said this was because of the “different composition” of the country.

She said: “We think it is best to have an approach where we work with councils, encouraging them through our delivery partner WRAP, to come up with solutions that best suit those local communities.”

I don’t think we are at the stage where we need to be considering mandatory approaches.

Therese Coffey

Coffey was interested in doing more to encourage councils ”to be more proactive about their approaches in how they undertake recycling initiatives”. But this is now ‘on pause’ with the upcoming general election.

She said: “I don’t think we are at the stage where we need to be considering mandatory approaches. There are certain rules already in place about separate collections and so on, but to go to one extreme where a household is required to have seven or eight bins is, in my view, just not appropriate.”

She reiterated her desire to focus on urban recycling, and said Defra had approached two housing landlords in London to see if it could work with them to pilot new approaches to the collection of waste.

Also giving eidence to the committee’s inquiry into food waste was Chris Preston, Defra’s deputy director for waste and recycling.

I’m not here to put loads of taxes on everything. I want to achieve the outcome.

Therese Coffey

He said that WRAP’s consistency framework, published in September 2016, set out the business case and approach for more food waste collections. “That consistency framework sets out a vision for what we want to see…so there is a framework in place to encourage that, it is just not a mandatory one,” he said.

Put to her that the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) had said businesses in England should have a food surplus and waste management plan, Coffey admitted she was not aware of this statement.

She said it was “an interesting approach” and that it was not in the commercial interests of businesses to have any waste in terms of the bottom line or the environment, adding that she was “not convinced a regulatory approach is necessarily going to be the best way to achieve the outcome”. A meeting with Beis had been deferred due to the election announcement.

Coffey also batted away suggestions of tax breaks to incentivise the redistribution of surplus food or help to cut food waste, as well as a landfill ban on food waste.

“Getting into all sorts of tax measures to get companies to behave in a particular way in this field – I just don’t think it is something we are going to head down.”

She added: “I’m not here to put loads of taxes on everything. I want to achieve the outcome. It may be that landfill tax was the way to change behaviour in councils, it might be that we need to go down that way in the future but I don’t want to set hares running, I want to work on practical measures on what is really stopping councils and homeowners from doing the right thing.”

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