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Our 'Industry Insight' reveals widespread concern at policy vacuum

Robin Latchem

I’m very proud of the latest issue of MRW, out this week, because it unveils exclusive Industry Insight covering recycling targets, Brexit, waste crime and regulation and more.

My colleagues have done a terrific job bringing to life the results of our survey and a range of interesting responses to it.

The one conclusion that stands out for me is that nine out of 10 respondents see a lack of Government leadership over the sector as a ‘significant’ or ‘big’ problem.

Why wouldn’t they? Take RWM. No Defra minister was able (or willing?) to speak at the NEC. The one Government rep who was scheduled, trade minister Greg Hands, pulled out beforehand.

That was a shame because a trade perspective would have been invaluable for all those whose livelihoods depend on exporting paper and plastics to China and are currently wondering exactly how the proposed import ban on some grades from the New Year will affect them.

It was all that uncertainty which caused Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the Resource Association, to call on minsters to get on a plane to Beijing to lobby the Chinese. I can’t imagine it having much of an effect but at the moment the Chinese are having a free run at a policy that could cause serious harm to the UK recycling industry.

Incidentally, Georgeson’s comments came at the Kent Resource Partnership in Canterbury on 21 September where I learned that McDonalds employs 115,000 people in the UK. The ESA estimates 100,000 directly employed in the waste sector. Food for thought?

China is not the only worry. Who knows how Brexit will affect us? Or the Circular Economy proposals. Or what Defra’s 25-year environment plan will herald when it finally appears.

The innovation and enterprise that has been the hallmark of waste collectors and recyclers over the years while have to make do and mend

What’s to be done? Self-help, it seems. Both Biffa and SUEZ showed off reports majoring on residual waste infrastructure at RWM, while the ESA commissioned a report-of-reports to try to resolve the continuing disagreement over how much is actually needed. The National Infrastructure Commission has joined this club by recruiting the Anthesis consultancy to do much the same thing.

RWM itself seems to me to be at something of a crossroads. It underwent substantial rebranding during the winter and certainly looked smarter and more modern. But the turn-out was clearly down on 2016 and criticism on social media of the value of the show and the cost to exhibitors seemed sharper. That may just be down to the growth in social media but I know the organisers will be focusing hard for 2018 and, as with all re-brands, it is more a work in progress than an instant transformation.

The latest issue of MRW also has a special section on resource efficiency in the north-east showing similar self-determination with Newcastle establishing a commission to look at its waste strategy and Teesside authorities coming together with ambitious Circular Economy measures. 

As ever, the innovation and enterprise that has been the hallmark of waste collectors and recyclers over the years while have to make do and mend to compensate for the lack of help from the Government.

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