Sort it out

In the light of the Environmental Audit Committee’s Waste — An Audit report, Graham Margetson, director of Foresite Systems, urges the government to take action on waste

The future for the environment in the UK looks increasingly depressing. As Europe continues its push towards greater environmental responsibility and awareness, the UK’s response is little short of laughable. As a country, we cannot even keep to the meagre promises of yesterday, as John Horam MP, the environmental audit committee’s chairman, noted in his organisation’s report: “There is a widening gap between the government’s targets and what is actually happening in practice. The targets are too timid but even so, we are not on course to meet them.”

Between 2002 and 2005, costs for UK industry of compliance with the Brussels targets will have to increase fivefold in order to meet the demands of the EU. Yet, we have still not seen any significant cost move in that direction. Increases need to be imposed in a graduated way, rather than all at once.

Packaging recovery and recycling rates are only part of the future landscape. When the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive gets underway — as it is likely to in January 2005 — much of UK business is going to be hit even harder by fees. The ramifications of the new legislation will be extremely widespread.

Planning for the future

The UK needs an environmental route map and timetable so that obligated companies know what they have to deal with in the medium and long term. In addition, the government needs to react to Brussel’s determination to see separate recycling targets for paper, plastic, aluminium, steel, glass and wool. Again, it appears to have done nothing.

If the current administration did make these targets clear, businesses would be better able to plan for the future. At the moment it is hard to know how organisations are expected to develop environmental plans without knowing the timing and probable increase of future targets.

Elsewhere, Chancellor Gordon Brown is still doing very little to reduce our dependency on landfill; the meek response set out in the Budget earlier this year was nowhere near what is needed. It still costs just £24/t to dump rubbish in this manner — hardly a deterrent.

So, what is the solution? The government must implement a structured environmental response as a priority and the drive for this needs to come directly from Downing Street. At the moment, there seems to be no plan, vision or coherence. Environmental policy needs to be co-ordinated fairly but firmly — and to be ‘owned’ by one ministry, not a mixture of DEFRA and the DTI.

Our environmental thinking as a country is not joined up, not coherent and not enough. If we are to sit next to our European counterparts at the environmental table, we need to get our act together, not only for the sake of the environment but also for that of the business community.

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