EFRA report response: Government must see waste as opportunity not cost

The waste and resources industry has condemned a 'disappointing' Government response to a report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) which criticised Defra for 'stepping back' from waste.

The original Waste Management report from EFRA, released in October, expressed concern that the 2020 EU target of 50% household recycling will not be met in England without clear Government leadership, renewed policy drivers and support from Defra, to which the Department replied that it would “respond to the report in due course”.

The Government’s eventual response, published today (12 January), states that the UK “must move towards a more circular economy, which is essential for future growth, increased resilience and environmental and human health”.

In response to EFRA’s recommendation that Defra should “take the lead role and responsibility for waste management policy as part of its departmental priority to improve the environment”, the Government said: “We agree with the Committee’s view and reiterate that Defra has not ‘stepped back’ from all waste and resource management policy, but refocused activities in areas that only Government can and must do.”

The Government also underlined that “many local authorities have already surpassed 50% recycling rates and some have rates in excess of 60%”.

‘Robust legal framework’

Under EU targets, households must recycle 50% by 2020 and potentially up to 70% by 2030.

A spokesperson for Defra added: “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 £1.5bn worth of food since 2007.

“We are also committed to recycling 50% of our household waste by 2020 and the significant progress we’ve made over the past ten years reflects a great deal of hard work by local authorities and a desire from householders to recycle more.

“We continue to support local authorities’ efforts to promote recycling and are working with WRAP to see what more we can do and what further measures may be needed to achieve this.”

Industry reaction

Jacob Hayler, executive director, Environmental Services Association (ESA)

“It is apparent from its response to the EFRA Committee report that the Government continues to see waste as a potential cost and not an opportunity.

“We should not be waiting for Europe to show us how to exploit the untapped value in our waste resources. We should be putting in place the framework now to maximise the jobs and investment which could flow from building a modern and competitive circular economy in the UK.

“We have already met our EU landfill diversion targets and yet are still sending around 17 million tonnes of mixed waste to landfill.

“If Defra truly believes its own rhetoric about supporting options higher up the waste hierarchy and recovering value from waste then it needs to do more to help create the right investment conditions to maximise the use of our secondary resources.”

Dan Cooke, director of external affairs, Viridor

“With the general election fast approaching, today’s response from government again fails to build on the positive progress made in recent years and to recognise the real contribution resource and waste energy can play at the heart of Britain’s green economy. 

“Whilst recognition for the private sector’s innovation and multi-billion pound investment programme is welcome, the reality is that progress towards becoming one of Europe’s cleanest, greenest economies will continue to be restrained by a lack of policy leadership.

“This isn’t just about ‘the environment’. It’s about the UK’s resource and energy resilience – ensuring our manufacturers have access to high quality secondary resources for British made products, and transforming what can’t be recycled into renewable energy to heat homes in our cities and the Home Counties, not in Holland or Latvia.

“Measures to support environmental compliance, tackle waste crime and to support greater transparency of end destinations without bureaucratic burdens are welcome, but we call on all parties to take a fresh look at the opportunities in waste and real resource management in the next parliament.”

Paul Taylor, chief executive, FCC Environment

“Our industry needs a clear vision to provide investors with the long term confidence to make the large investments in waste management infrastructure required to increase recycling.

“Policy to date has been valuable and achieved its aim but further legislation or targets, including a ban on incineration or landfill, would add to the red-tape burden in an already fragile economy.

“The Government should focus instead on promoting the economic benefits of recycling with policy-makers working together across the planning, waste management and energy sectors.”

Lois Vallely

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie