Nirvana: smells like waste prevention?
Consultation on a waste prevention plan for England is finally underway today (11 March) as Defra publishes its call for evidence to inform this important policy driver.
This is arguably the coalition Government's biggest opportunity yet to embrace the highest point of the waste hierarchy. In Buddhist terms, waste prevention is probably akin to nirvana - representing a heavenly state of divine wisdom. But do ministers have what it takes to make this transformational journey?
Well, certainly in England, you'd have to say no judging on previous performance. The coalition is legislatively shy compared to its Scottish and Welsh cousins. It prefers a hands-off approach, letting the free markets jostle in a random manner with no clear direction.
What steer the Government has produced, most notably its Waste Review, has been called "limp" on more than one occasion - some industry leaders have gone much further and asked for it to be ripped up. And while there is much anticipation over this latest piece of policy, there is also underlying scepticism.
The key questions being asked are: Will it go far enough? Will prevention targets be set? What waste streams will be targeted, and will they be the right ones? Will there be fiscal penalties and incentives? What about the wider issues of behavioural change? Will there be a clear route for action? How easy will the guidance be to interpret?
The consultation document sets out a number of market failures which are currently acting as a barrier to waste prevention - these include a lack of transparency and understanding over the real costs of manufacturing, purchasing and waste disposal. Up-front investment is another key stumbling block as is stakeholder buy-in.
It will be these sticky issues that will need resolving. If you look at Defra's list of consultees it is extensive, spanning business, industry, third sector, research establishments and consumer groups. There is a wealth of expertise to call on. Solutions should be found.
But also, ministers need to cast a framework that will enable those solutions to be delivered. They have from May (the call for evidence closes 29 April) until the end of the year to draw up and publish this programme. Let's hope they are brave enough to make it a real game-changer.maxine perella