Changes in government are unlikely to derail policy momentum built up through the Resources and Waste Strategy, a Defra official has said.
Tom Murray, deputy head of resources and waste policy at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, made the comment at the ‘Resourcing the Future Conference’ in London this week (13 June).
Mr Murray gave the keynote address on the second day of the conference, in which he outlined some of the ongoing work that the Department is doing to follow up on the launch of its strategy in late 2018 – which has been spearheaded by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove.
Upcoming outputs from the Department, Mr Murray said, will include: a consultation on the waste prevention programme, which was last reviewed in 2013; a call for evidence on bio-plastics; and a consultation on mandatory food waste reporting for retailers and food producers.
In a question and answer session following his presentation, the official was asked by Steve Didsbury, head of waste at the London borough of Bexley, how much the Strategy is ‘dependent on the current ministerial team’ – with a cabinet reshuffle in prospect following the Conservative Party leadership contest.
In response, Mr Murray said: “Obviously, changes in the ministerial team create uncertainty. Changes at the top, the Prime Minister creates uncertainty. But what I think we have in the Resources and Waste Strategy is a significant commitment across government, which has been done in the last six months.
“My personal view is that it would be difficult not to continue with the same momentum that we have. Obviously there are things that we need to go through as government, be it spending reviews and things like the Environment Bill but we will continue to push forward as hard as we can to delivering.”
Duty of Care
On day one of the conference, which is jointly hosted by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, the Environmental Services Association and the Resource Association, delegates heard from the chair of the Environment Agency, Emma Howard Boyd, who was critical of businesses for failing to meet their duty of care for waste, particularly around exports of material.
“We need to ensure that waste exports are properly described and don’t allow an easy and cheap route to avoid UK regulation.”Emma Howard Boyd
She said: “We need tougher regulations on Duty of Care, waste exports and technical competence.
“We need to underpin this strategy by ensuring those who we licence to operate within the waste sector are both technically capable, and financially able, to discharge their obligations.
“We need to ensure that waste exports are properly described and don’t allow an easy and cheap route to avoid UK regulation.”
Day one also featured a discussion on the future of plastic recycling, which is among the key materials targeted for action in the government’s strategy.
Dr Paul Davidson, a former WRAP plastics and Defra advisor, and now a market development engineer for the petrochemicals giant SABIC, outlined the potential for ‘chemical recycling’ to create a demand for difficult-to-recycle mixed plastic wastes.
The company is currently developing a plant in the Netherlands to convert mixed plastic wastes into a feedstock for its steam crackers – which would return polymers to their initial chemical state, and mean they could be used in a wider range of secondary applications.
This could work alongside established ‘mechanical’ recycling processes for plastic polymers including PET and HDPE bottles, Dr Davidson said, although the cost of establishing such a process is thought to be high.