Defra slammed for ‘stepping back’ from waste

Defra has been slammed for "stepping back" from waste and needs to show strong leadership in order to improve England's recycling rate, a cross-party committee of MPs has said.

The call came in a report, launched today (22 October) by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) entitled ‘Waste management in England’. It was triggered by a decision made by Defra to take a step back from waste management from April.

MPs say that they are concerned that the 2020 EU target of 50% household recycling will not be met in England without clear Government leadership and renewed policy drivers and support from Defra. In 2012/13, about 43% of household waste was recycled in England but the annual rate of increase has started to slow.


Launching the report, EFRA chair Anne McIntosh said: “Defra ‘stepped back’ from waste management at a time when we need both a more ambitious approach to waste management and stronger Government leadership to drive up static recycling rates in England and make better use of energy recovery options such as local heating for homes. Ministers must now show that waste policy remains an important priority.”

MPs also call on Defra to consider introducing statutory recycling targets for local authorities alongside the “requisite funding support”.

Waste champion

Elsewhere, EFRA urges Defra to appoint a minister with clear responsibility for “co-ordinating across all governmental departments and ensuring consistency of approach in terms of legislation, policy, incentives and communications”.

It also recommends that Defra invest in recycling communication campaigns in order to tackle “householder confusion”.

The report has been welcomed by the resource management sector. Responding to the report, Resource Association chief executive Ray Georgeson said he welcomed EFRA’s acknowledgement that “much more needs to be done to communicate regularly and effectively with the public to raise recycling rates”.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) concurred with Georgeson and the Committee. The BRC operates an ‘On-Pack Recycling Label’ (OPRL) scheme. OPRL chair Jane Bevis said that householders needed clear communication on recycling to help them identify what can and cannot be recycled.

‘Wake-up call’

Waste and resource management firms have also welcomed the report. Viridor director of external affairs Dan Cooke said: “This important report should be a real wake-up call for the UK Government and the sector.

“Whilst recycling has been a real UK success story to date, the decision to ask Defra to take a back seat was a mistake. There is broad consensus that we need to keep our foot on the waste policy accelerator.”

SITA UK chief executive David Palmer-Jones agreed with Cooke and said that Defra’s announcement of its intention to step back from waste policy was “ill-conceived and premature”.

Elsewhere, Renewable Energy Association technical director Jeremy Jacobs said that Defra needed to realise the potential of waste-based renewables.

He explained: “For instance, the UK still exports vast quantities of refuse-derived fuel. We could be using this valuable resource here to generate very cheap low carbon heat and power in conventional combustion plants, or to boost development of cutting edge UK technology like gasification and pyrolysis, instead of shipping it off to the continent.”

A Defra spokesperson told edie: “We all have a responsibility to use our resources more carefully and reduce waste.

“The Government continues to support this by providing a robust legal framework to help enforcement agencies and industry take action, securing an additional £5m to tackle waste crime and helping consumers save £1.5 billion worth of food since 2007.

“We will respond to the report in due course.”

Read the full EFRA report here.

Liz Gyekye

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