One key element in exploiting the huge opportunities that exist in the waste sector is for political parties to demonstrate forward thinking and provide the industry with clarity over regulatory policy.
Increasingly stringent EU landfill-avoidance targets require a clear regulatory framework within which business can make long-term investment decisions, so this must be a priority in manifestos. That said, the waste industry itself, supported by the wider environmental technology market, must produce the solutions needed to reach the next level of environmental innovation. While still playing a key part in balancing different incentives, such as landfill taxes and targeted research and development funding, it is important for the government to take a step back when it comes to making decisions about what technology should be implemented on the ground.
There are undoubtedly issues surrounding coordination between central government and local authorities, but the waste industry needs to step up to the mark and become more technology-focused in order to deliver the next generation of recycling and waste-to-energy solutions. Traditionally, waste management has not been a particularly innovative or risk-taking activity but this will have to change in order to realise further significant growth.
Political commitment is a lynchpin in this process and will ensure that the industry can invest in the solutions needed to solve our wider issues. If we can balance a consistent national policy with the requirements of specific local circumstances, it is possible to begin moving towards matching the momentum of other European countries who are already leading the way in commercial waste management.
Regardless of which policies are finally introduced, strong political leadership, continued commitment and consistency of regulation must remain central. Currently there is a feeling that central government has de-prioritised this sector whereas companies need to be assured that government wholeheartedly supports waste management and takes the aim of a zero waste society seriously. By extension, investors require visibility on long-term policy and are deterred by ambiguity and an apparent lack of momentum.
If a more sustained approach is achieved, we can finally guarantee a long-term solution to effective waste management, moving innovation up the agenda and working towards a more efficient national strategy.
Ian Thomas is director at Turquoise International, a merchant bank specialising in energy and the environment