Maximising the gains
Some very interesting issues were raised at a keynote seminar in London last week hosted by the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum.
The overarching theme was developing a zero waste economy and how to move forward from the waste review.
An impressive panel of speakers – drawn from academia, business, central and local government, the third sector and industry – debated a whole host of topical issues, including voluntary agreements and the next steps for UK energy recovery.
Also high on the list was waste prevention, an issue that is far easier to achieve in theory than it is in practice. Indeed, getting people to think twice about what they consume and how they discard these items is incredibly challenging.
But something will have to be done. In England, which has been far less ambitious that the devolved administrations in tackling waste, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has until December 2013 to prepare its national waste prevention plan.
Part of the problem is that to prevent waste one thing you have to do is change consumer habits and that doesn’t go down well with the public or retailers. In fact, you are in danger of stepping into nanny state territory if you aren’t careful.
Take alcohol for example. If you are in Australia or Canada, you can’t buy alcohol in supermarkets like you can here. You have to go to a liquor store.
Consumers aren’t prevented from buying alcohol and retailers aren’t stopped from selling it; it’s just not so easy to get your hands on it. I don’t know if this approach was taken for public health reasons but it must reduce consumption levels, and therefore waste produced.
Personally, I think this is a classic example of silo working rather than joining up policy across the economy to achieve multiple benefits.
We know that alcohol-related incidents are a major contributor to hospital admissions, placing a massive burden on the health service, not to mention police resources in dealing with anti-social behaviour. And that doesn’t even touch on alcohol-related domestic violence.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting banning alcohol but certainly looking at controlling its availability would surely have a positive public health effect.
Not only that but it would also impact on the volume of waste produced in the first place. Surely it’s time that we started joining up the dots across industry sectors to maximise the gains to wider society rather than continue to work in silos?Nick Warburton