Why the Waste Review needs to mean business

The Government's Waste Review is supposedly good news for businesses, but Dee Moloney questions if the policy is robust enough to deliver on its C&I ambitions

According to Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, the Government’s Waste Review is “good news for businesses” and has broadly met with approval from the Confederation of British Industry and other industry trade bodies.

The review is certainly evidence that the Government has recognised the importance of waste as a resource and the economic value of waste materials, which is something that industry has been saying for some time. However, I wonder if they have gone far enough in their approach to drive delivery of what is needed to make a material difference.

The review has committed to developing a comprehensive waste prevention programme to work with businesses and their supply chains to drive waste reduction, recycling and reuse. This will assist those who have not yet grasped the opportunities that exist within their businesses, if it is implemented and rolled out effectively.

However, in my view, the review does not respond to the innovation of industry leaders, such as Marks & Spencer and Coca Cola who are driving product stewardship, and lacks detail on how the policies might become reality.

It invites larger businesses to work with government to explore new ways of reducing the amount of packaging and waste they produce through the support of responsibility deals. The Government is hoping that the hospitality sector, retailers and brand owners will voluntarily agree to embrace waste avoidance through their product design, manufacture and distribution processes.

Voluntary action is also flagged as playing an important role in increasing recycled material in packaging, and making items more readily recyclable. However, this approach will only be effective when objectives are jointly developed, and the right incentives exist.

I question whether the requirement for voluntary action is evidence of the Government’s dislike of regulation and if it is in conflict with their objectives for waste reduction. However, based on the impacts of voluntary programmes like the Courtauld Commitment, I would say that much of the innovative thinking in this area is actually coming from industry, not Government.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses, which represents the UK’s 4.8M small and medium sized enterprises, waste is a key issue for its members. These businesses will now have an opportunity to benefit from waste prevention support and easier, more frequent and cost efficient recycling – whether provided by the local council via the new business waste commitment, or the private sector.

Other industry associations are also reporting that their members welcome the certainty about landfill tax price increases and the abolition of the landfill allowance trading scheme, which may increase the willingness of local authorities to collect food waste and biodegradables from commercial customers.

I hope that there will be sufficient support to ensure that small businesses understand the economic benefits of recycling and are able to take up these new services.

In summary, the review attempts to change the way that businesses across all sectors look at waste by capitalising the economic opportunities for transforming it into a resource, but lacks detail on new initiatives which will be needed to translate the aspirations into reality.

I have concerns about the light touch approach to achieving the Government’s goal of a zero waste economy. I was hoping for a stronger, more outcome-based, review that enables large and small businesses to make strategic investment decisions.

I would encourage those government organisations challenged with implementing the outcomes of the review to work together to provide clear and consistent messages and services to businesses.

Dee Moloney is managing director of LRS Consultancy

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