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Public concern over waste is welcome

Robin Latchem

A fascinating year in our sector seems to be lining up for 2018. A growing awareness in Westminster during 2017 of the need for action on plastic waste has been accelerated by public concern in front page and TV news, speeches delivered by the prime minister and policy gear changes. 

The current environment secretary Michael Gove and resource minister Therese Coffey seem to ‘get it’ – which is a welcome change at the top of Defra - although the revelation from confidential briefing papers that ministers are quietly opposing future EU recycling targets is worrying. 

The proposed extension in England of the 5p charge for single-use plastic bags was heralded ahead of the unveiling of the Government’s 25-year environment plan as a major ‘green’ development. It was nothing of the sort. It merely matches extending the scope to SMEs, who were daftly left out four years ago to spare them “an additional burden”. 

How confident can we be that we will get true progress by voluntary initiatives alone?

The spin wasn’t up to much either, with both the prime minister and Gove arguing that it showed people were prepared to “pay for the environment” when all they would be doing was saving money by not taking such bags at the checkout.

Public and media pressure is driving change and it is to be welcomed. We have had a rash of packaging commitments from Iceland, McDonald’s, Waitrose and the rest, but how confident can we be that we will get true progress by voluntary initiatives alone? 

We need to offer fiscal advantage to businesses that prioritise recycled materials and a regime that establishes strong markets for such materials. When the awareness dawns, the UK’s sustainability will be much more assured. Could it take hold seriously in 2018?

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