Why make hard work of the case for waste?

Owen Paterson has been nesting in his position as Environment Secretary for the past eight months. The signs weren't good as news broke of his appointment, and those concerns were pretty much well-founded as the Conservative MP got to grips with his portfolio.


His failure to support a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to dramatic declines of bee populations, was the latest in a long list of sorrowful actions. Think badger culls, think climate sceptic. His environmental legacy so far has all the makings of a natural world tragedy.

So I nearly fell off my chair last week when I learnt he had taken up quite an admirable cause - a call to action for greater investment in resource management. Not only that, but his Defra team had managed to get some quite high profile investors in the same room together to listen to his plea.

Speaking at the mini-summit, Paterson outlined the importance of extracting value from waste set against a natural resource backdrop that was coming under serious pressures. Estimates suggest that the waste industry could double in value by 2020 to be worth over £6 billion, he said.

"Recycling, reprocessing and remanufacture of materials offer potentially lucrative investment opportunities. Opportunities which I know many of you are already taking advantage of and helping bring about," the Secretary told delegates.

He neatly illustrated the fact he was getting his hands dirty, speaking of tours around anaerobic digestion sewage treatment plants - he may even have spent time at the docks, for he lamented the fact that billions of pounds' worth of recycled material is being sent abroad for processing instead of being handled in the UK.

"The opportunities in the sector are immense," he asserted. "Businesses want certainty in their supply chains, so there a real opportunity for UK businesses to extract value from these materials – through reclamation, recycling and reprocessing."

So, all good, right? Well yes, to an extent. By cornering some influential backers in the financial world, the message was very clear - the Government expects the private sector to take the lead on this, to fast-track key investment decisions and start cementing that resource economy.

All well and good, but the one thing investors want is certainty that the horse they are backing is a winner. And the waste industry unfortunately, is beset by uncertainty. Especially in England where government vision on smarter resource management remains somewhat vague. Add to that a cumbersome planning process, various PFI pickles, and no consistent approach to waste reclamation … I could go on.

While Owen Paterson has risen maybe an inch in my estimation (and only an inch), he'd do better to place pressure on his own department to fire up some political ambition on this whole agenda. If the market drivers and levers are there, investors wouldn't need coaxing. Simple as.  

maxine perella

Topics: Waste & resource management
Tags: anaerobic digestion | Fire | investors | pesticides | planning | resource management
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