Defra has given a clear indication that it may not be able to publish its resources and waste strategy until the second half of the year.
Resource minister Therese Coffey discussed the timetable at a hearing of the Environmental Audit Committee into the implications of Chinese import restrictions on secondary materials, notably mixed paper and post-consumer plastics.
During the hearing, Coffey also said she did not accept that the China situation was a crisis for the industry. It was not yet clear if the present glut of materials remaining in the UK, as new markets were being sought, was temporary or structural.
MPs also heard that Environment Agency (EA) officers were currently in China meeting their opposite numbers to learn more about the implications of their new policies.
Coffey was asked by committee chair Mary Creagh (pictured) when Defra would publish the resources and waste strategy, which is seen as a key element in the Government’s environmental policy following the 25-year plan (unveiled this month) and the Clean Growth strategy (October 2017). Creagh pointed out that the minister had previously mentioned June as a possible date.
“I’d love to say the first half of the year but, to be realistic, some time this year,” Coffey said.
She added that one constraint was chiming in with other policies, such as the Treasury’s proposed call for evidence in early 2018 on how the tax system or charges could help to reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste.
Coffey said she expected this to happen “in the near future” but knew no more about the timing.
She confirmed there would be consultation on elements of the resources and waste strategy because it would propose regulatory changes, including a possible requirement for a percentage of recycled material in new products.
The hearing came a day after the committee heard from representatives of leading associations in the waste sector on the Chinese restrictions, following concern that the clampdown was hitting UK exports with 70% of recycled plastics and 66% of paper traditionally heading to China.
There had been criticism at the first hearing that ministers had not done enough since the crackdown was announced in July 2017. With the prime minister in China, Creagh said it was a “missed opportunity” for the issue not to have been raised by the Government. Coffey said shortly: “I note your concern.”
When asked at the start of the hearing why more had not been done to lobby Beijing, Coffey commented “that ship has sailed” and China was entitled to enforce its own import policies.
The UK had backed EU representations through the World Trade Organization, she said, and was gathering information on the restrictions and liaising with industry. No local authorities had complained directly to Defra about the impact, exporters were finding new markets and she argued that Defra had been handling the situation “rather well” during an ongoing dialogue with councils and industry. Trade with China had also been declining ahead of the restrictions, Coffey added.
Chris preston eac
Chris Preston, Defra’s deputy director for waste and recycling, said the speed of change had taken everyone, including the industry, by surprise.
Defra had liaised with the Department for International Trade and the British Embassy in Beijing, he said, while “the EA is now out there talking to the authorities”.