The waste sector has been praised by a senior Defra official for its role in advocating resource efficiency before it was “fashionable” and for pioneering work that was now “bearing fruit”.
Shaun Gallagher (pictured), departmental director for environmental quality, made the comments as he delivered the keynote speech at the Resourcing the Future conference in London. He was replacing resource minister Therese Coffey, who has been ill.
He said concern about waste had rarely had such a profile and issues such as ocean plastic were now often heard and seen on the news. They were “high in people’s thinking” and that offered a real opportunity.
“Increased awareness is in large part due to the effort of those who have gathered here. You were making the case before it was fashionable. Your work and advocacy is bearing fruit.
“Congratulations on getting the door open. The task is how to make the best of the opportunities we now have,” he said.
He also said that much of the sector’s work with businesses on packaging had been “hugely useful in shaping our decision making in bringing forward options for consultation”.
Much of his speech related to work on Defra’s upcoming resources and waste strategy, which was following a series of other Government policies and strategies in the past year, such as clean growth, the industrial strategy and the 25-year environment plan. This, he said, showed that sustainability was being developed across departments which had realised that waste and resources were not only environmental issues but economic.
“Our priority is to ensure Defra has the right influence and engagement across Government to achieve a coherent approach to policy…this breadth will be evident when the strategy is published,” he said.
But he refused to say when it would be published, saying it would be “foolish” to put a precise date on when political policies were to be delivered.
Although ministers are committed to a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers, Gallagher said further consultation was needed on the design.
“We recognise that in this area, no single intervention can stand alone. Every aspect has to connect together into a whole system approach. DRS can only be fully effective if it is part of wider reform for producer responsibility,” he said.
“It may feel that there are lots of individual things going on, but I am aware that this strategy can only have real impact in a whole system approach. That’s the complex task for those putting together the strategy.”
But the resources and waste strategy will not contain measures for the variable charging of household waste, even though it was a suggestion in a report from the Government’s Chief Scientific Officer, published in December 2017.
In response to a question, he said: “That’s one of those areas that someone in my position would be bonkers to talk about. Ministers have not committed to exploring that at household level and I doubt we would be seeing that as part of the strategy.”
Nor is Defra looking at targets for local authorities, he said, although it was looking how they could be incentivised and supported to play their part in the system.
Resourcing the Future is a two-day event staged jointly by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, the Environmental Services Association, WRAP and the Resource Association.
In his opening address, CIWM president David Wilson said the import restrictions from China had been “a rude awakening” and the conference programme reflected the need for smarter recycling and use of materials.