Public participation ‘key’ to UK waste challenge

Winning over the public and tackling non-municipal waste are the key challenges facing the UK as it battles to reduce the amount of waste it produces.

Regulating businesses can only work to a certain extent, but creating a real step change will require a significant change in consumer behaviour, according to Liz Parkes, head of waste at the Environment Agency.

Speaking at the RWM conference in Birmingham, she said that while great strides are being made to deal with municipal waste, 91% of the country’s rubbish is not municipal waste, and more focus needs to be put on this.

“If we can get the public brought in, this is the big challenge. Waste in the media spotlight every day. We need to work together to raise the game on this,” Ms Parkes told delegates.

She added: “The challenge is to look at consumer behaviour. To take that forward we really need to look at this market.

“There’s no point pumping money into changes that are happening already that might give us one or two per cent [more recycling].

Commenting on Defra’s Waste Strategy for England, Ms Parkes reiterated her previous comments that although it was not a perfect strategy, it provided impetus for the industry.

“We don’t need to aim for perfection – we really need to get moving. We don’t want this analysis paralysis,” she said.

“The Waste Strategy didn’t get everything right but at least it was a way forward.”

The quality of materials being sent for recycling will also be key to maintaining the confidence of the public and the customers for the materials, she added, and more work must be done to look at waste higher up the supply chain.

The Environment Agency currently is working with WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) and SEEDA (the South East England Development Agency) to put together a pilot scheme to tackle supply chain waste.

Kate Martin

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