Judging from recent pronouncements, UK politicians and policymakers seem to have bought into the concept of a resource efficient, circular economy.
So what transformative policies are likely to be taken into the 2015 election by the main political parties?
The Liberal Democrats’ Green Manifesto proposes binding targets for reducing resource consumption; restricting incineration to non-recyclable waste; working with the EU to develop sustainable design and production stand ards; using green public procurement to grow a market for sustainable products; and, controversially in the current political climate, to investigate the potential for resource taxes and variable waste charging for households.
Give or take the odd nuance, it is a coherent policy package that Sita UK supports.
Some indication as to Labour’s thinking has come from comments made by shadow environment minister Barry Gardiner. Labour believes, as we do, that ‘Westminster intervention’ is necessary to drive recycling rates upwards. Beyond that, and the need to improve waste data and address product design, we know little else.
The Conservatives have yet to announce proposals, although a report from its 2020 Group, Sweating our Assets, recommends the introduction of resource productivity and efficiency metrics; demand reduction policies; a focus on ecodesign, reuse and remanufacturing; and a landfill ban on recyclables.
All these measures are included in the European Commission’s communication published in July, Towards a Circular Economy, albeit with proposed numerical targets for reuse and recycling (70%), resource efficiency improvements (30%), reduction of food waste (30%), and for limiting landfill (5%), all by 2030.
What is encouraging is that the policy proposals put forward by the parties are broadly in line with each other and with the Commission. The palette of available levers is fairly limited, given that the objective of a circular economy is relatively straightforward: use primary and secondary resources more efficiently; move waste away from disposal; and incentivise a market for secondary products.
The points of disagreement are likely to focus on whether mandatory targets should be applied (they should), the role of fiscal and economic instruments (important to send the right market signals), and the speed of change (urgent).
The policy ideas of the main parties generally chime with those of Sita UK. What we are looking for is real leadership from the next Government, of whatever complexion.
Dr Gev Eduljee is external affairs director at Sita UK