One event over the holidays that will not have helped get us off to the best of starts in 2016 was the widespread flooding. It has been a nightmare for crews doing what they could to keep collection services running. The longer-term challenge is the political tidal wave that followed the rain.
It is clear the public believes that not enough money has been spent on flood defences because of the Government’s austerity regime. As David Cameron told MPs this month: “The country wants us to do more, and we will do more.”
With ministers on the back foot, it means more pressure on stretched Environment Agency (EA) resources to prevent ‘once-a-century’ disasters cropping up with far greater frequency - and to shore up votes in blighted areas.
Inevitably, that must mean less Defra focus on the waste industry, especially with its redundancy programme underway. Those involved in criminal activities might be happy to see the diversion of EA resources, but it is worrying for the law-abiding majority.
Extra Treasury cash last year to fight crime was welcome, but how confident can we be that it will be sustained? Environment secretary Liz Truss told the 2016 Oxford Farming Conference that she was “modernising” the structure of Defra so that it is fit for purpose for the next 25 years, that it is “more integrated and less siloed”. Again, it’s fingers crossed that the waste sector does not lose out.
No-one can say the industry does not do its bit to address the big issues. Funds from the CIWM and the ESAET will help make 2016 the year to fight crime by emphasising the duty of care message to the wider economy. They are supporting the EA’s ‘Right Waste, Right Place’ campaign, while the CIWM has its own ‘Fighting Waste Crime’ initiative.
The decade-low level of prices for secondary materials does not help businesses on the margin, for which ‘bending the rules’ or worse is a real option. The parlous state of the market has been allowed to continue without intervention for too long – it’s a shame no-one repaired the waste sector roof when the sun was shining. For now, though, it is pouring.