12 September 2016 by Will Date

Minister has inherited a ‘bare locker’ on waste policy

EXCLUSIVE: Suez chief executive David Palmer-Jones has urged the resources minister Thérèse Coffey not to discount any potential policy options for future direction for the UK’s waste and resources sector post-Brexit.

Mr Palmer-Jones’ comments come in the wake of the minister’s address to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee last week – at which she had indicated that government will seek to focus on ‘outcomes’ rather than being ‘prescriptive’ with policy on waste (see letsrecycle.com story).

David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of French-owned Suez in the UK

David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of French-owned Suez in the UK

However, the Suez chief executive, a senior figure within the UK’s waste sector, has called upon the minister not to rule out any potential policy avenues, adding that the landfill tax is a good example of a policy from a Conservative government that had driven investment in the sector.

‘Bare locker’

Asked if he thought the minister’s comments reflected a continued unwillingness to engage with new policy for waste and resources from Defra, Mr Palmer-Jones said: “The Minister’s reticence to define a clear policy on waste is perhaps understandable at this early stage of her incumbency. Ever since the Coalition government voiced its intention to “step back” from active involvement in the sector, policymaking at Defra has virtually ground to a halt – Dr Coffey has inherited a bare locker.

“The UK’s membership of the EU allowed us to rely on its policies and legislative framework to determine the direction and speed of travel for the waste management sector. But Brexit has in effect moved the onus for policymaking in this arena squarely onto the UK itself.”

Challenged on where he believes government waste policy should focus, Mr Palmer-Jones added that he would like to see a clear link between Defra and the business, energy and industrial-focused government departments – as well as urging the minister to maintain focus on extended-producer responsibility, started under her predecessor Rory Stewart.

He said: “We need to see government policy on waste not just though any “outcomes based” approach but also importantly linked with other business, energy and industrial focused departments. Taking a leaf out of the Scottish administration’s book, the industrial strategy that the newly constituted Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is charged with developing provides an ideal vehicle for incorporating circular economy principles relating to resource management and sustainable economic growth.

“Ever since the Coalition government voiced its intention to “step back” from active involvement in the sector, policymaking at Defra has virtually ground to a halt – Dr Coffey has inherited a bare locker.”


David Palmer-Jones
Suez

“Brexit should be seen as an opportunity to fully integrate the waste management sector into the wider UK economy, and extract in full measure the economic and environmental benefits the sector is capable of delivering.”

Approach

The Suez chief executive also called for a more joined-up approach from government, encompassing both household and industrial waste streams.

“Having two parallel systems operating with different policy drivers and measures and different treatment infrastructure is inefficient,” he commented.

“For waste to be properly valued as a resource it is important not just to look at who puts the bins out – households or industry.  As, if not more, important is to focus on the ultimate objective or “outcome” – treating waste as a source of secondary raw materials or energy.  That perception change should also take government waste policy further up the supply chain, to the provenance of materials – the manufacturers, packers and retailers – and not just the ultimate disposers of waste.”


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