Just before Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman released details of the Government’s Waste Review to a packed audience at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management’s annual conference in London, a panel of experts debated the sector’s progress to date in treating waste as a resource.

London Waste & Recycling Board’s chairman, James Cleverly, said that although there was a “huge amount of will” in the industry to make it happen, he thought there was still a long way to go.

“That phrase ‘waste as a resource’ was first used in the mid 1970s … yet we are still having these conversations now,” he told delegates.

He added: “To really make this shift we have to start properly evaluating what we currently call waste and to really strip the value out. Until we do that, we are going to struggle.”

Eunomia director, Dominic Hogg, was doubtful that government policy was effective enough to drive through the measures needed.

He said: “We’ve had a fairly slow pace of change over the past 15 years or so. We can definitely go further with resources, but I would question whether current policy strategy will really push us far enough in that direction.”

Meanwhile Aldersgate Group chair, Peter Young, said England’s waste strategy needed to take a leaf out of Scotland’s book and adopt the use of carbon metrics to really make a difference.

He said: “We need good metrics to look at lifecycle impacts and selecting the right option. We’ve made the best progress in municipal solid waste because of the landfill tax, and because we understand what it is we’re dealing with, whereas our metrics for other waste streams are not as good.”

He added: “Our total waste production in the UK is only falling at about 1% per annum when we’re in a recession – I think that’s pretty pathetic. The real challenge is to design out waste and set targets and business models which don’t encourage us to continue to throw stuff away.”

Maxine Perella

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