Waste managers lament Defra’s ‘utterly depleted’ five-year plan

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) has criticised the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for delivering a "highly disappointing" five-year environmental policy plan which contains a distinct lack of commitments on the reduction of UK waste.

Defra’s new plan, released late last week, focuses on “unleashing the economic potential of food, farming, nature and the countryside’”, with specific action points on flooding, natural capital and animal and plant diseases. But CIWM has been left frustrated by Defra’s decision to overlook ongoing waste issues.

There is just one mention of waste in the entire 4,400-word plan, relating to the development of new approaches to tackle waste crime.

CIWM chief executive Steve Lee, who is stepping down from the organisation at the end of 2016, said: “It is not surprising but highly disappointing to see so little on waste in Defra’s plan for the next five years. CIWM has welcomed the government’s focus on tackling waste crime, and we are pleased to see that this remains a priority.

“However, the waste and resources policy agenda is much broader than that, encompassing materials resource efficiency and security, renewable energy, green economic growth and climate change mitigation. The stark picture here is of a department that is utterly depleted in terms of resources, funding and vision.“

CIWM was among the bodies that responded to the Environmental Audit Committee’s recent enquiry on Sustainability and HM Treasury. It said that a low-carbon and resource-efficient approach was needed in order to answer the country’s most significant economic challenges.

But CIWM believe that economic growth won’t be possible in the short-term due to stalled recycling efforts and increasing pressures on UK reprocessing capacity. The long-term ramifications of this lack of action, CIWM suggests, will lead to Defra’s ‘inadequate’ plan failing to play its part on meeting the recently-agreed Paris climate change deal.

Defra’s grand plan

Liz Truss’ department announced plans to increase its work on natural capital – which she believes to be worth £1.6trn – with a comprehensive 25-year plan for the Natural Capital Committee due later this year; and the life of that Committee being extended to at least 2020.

On flooding, Defra will invest £2.3bn by 2021 – an increase from the £1.7bn spend over the past five years – to better protect more than 300,000 homes.

An extra £3bn will be spent by the department under the Common Agricultural Policy to enhance England’s countryside, along with a £100m investment into environmental schemes to remediate contaminated land, restore important peatland habitats and increase woodland planting.

Pragmatic Scotland

Despite criticising Defra’s blueprint, CIWM has been more supportive of the Scottish Government’s decision to launch a new circular economy strategy – just weeks after the country announced a £70m investment into recycling and reuse.

The strategy which includes a pledge to reduce food waste by 33% was labelled as a ‘thoughtful and pragmatic vision’ by CIWM chief executive Steve Lee.

“Importantly, the strategy covers both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ mechanisms, acknowledging the role of the full supply chain in both capturing and capitalising on high quality recyclates, but with a strong focus too on re-use, remanufacturing and procurement,” Lee said.

“Without wishing to labour a point made repeatedly by many in this sector, it also shows leadership, a government that is prepared to take action and provide funding support where it is in a position to do so.”

Matt Mace

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