Dr Marcus Gover, chief executive of resources charity WRAP – previous the Waste & Resources Action Programme – which advises government on waste and recycling and also implements some actions, gives his thoughts on the newly published Resources and Waste Strategy.
OPINION: There has been a lot of expectation that the Government’s long-awaited Resources and Waste Strategy would provide the right mix of cohesive policy and fiscal drivers to rejuvenate the resources sector and support the wider economy in England, writes Marcus Gover.
At WRAP, we were clear that the Strategy had to deliver some fundamental changes to incentivise businesses, local government and citizens to do the right thing to protect our environment, particularly to address stagnating recycling rates, and tackle the environmental impacts of food and plastic waste. Without making serious changes, it will not be possible to achieve the national and international ambitions laid out in the 25 Year Environment Plan, the EU Circular Economy package and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The newly-released Resources and Waste Strategy offers some bold and radical solutions which the sector has been requesting for many years. Collectively, the proposals have the potential to transform the landscape for the way we manage resources and waste in the future. Both the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, and Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey, deserve credit for having demonstrated leadership and vision in bringing this to fruition.
Extended Producer Responsibility – a potential game-changer
The biggest potential game-changer is the proposed radical reform, subject to consultation, of the existing producer responsibility regime – starting with packaging, and extending to several other waste streams later on. It means we will be moving to a system where producers pay the full net costs of dealing with the packaging waste they produce, in line with the Polluter Pays Principle and the EU Circular Economy package. This will certainly drive up recycling rates, and should lead producers to design better products and packaging.
We welcome this ambitious agenda and are particularly pleased to see that it includes many of the recommendations WRAP, packaging group INCPEN and the Advisory Committee on Packaging put forward to the Secretary of State earlier in 2018 on behalf of the sector following high-level industry discussions we facilitated.
Consistent collections – driving up recycling
Given the latest dip in the household waste recycling figures in England, it is encouraging to see the comprehensive package of ambitious proposals aimed at achieving greater consistency in collections – a strategy that WRAP has been working on for several years. They provide the strong leadership needed to ensure that England’s recycling rate starts heading in the right direction.
They include, significantly, proposals for all local authorities to collect a consistent range of materials to a standard. This will play an important role in reducing confusion for householders, increasing recycling rates and improving material quality, especially when put alongside the proposals for weekly food waste collections. Our work over the years has demonstrated a strong business case for weekly food waste collections from households and businesses. And for the first time the Strategy also sets out proposals to encourage businesses to present recycling separately from residual waste.
However, it is clearly vital that all local authorities are funded to help implement these requirements, whether through finance raised by the proposed EPR scheme for packaging or otherwise. And there is still a lot to do on design and implementation of these measures. WRAP is ready to play a full part in the forthcoming consultations on the details.
Tackling food and plastic waste
For WRAP, we are also pleased to see a number of measures aimed at tackling the environmental impacts of both food and plastic waste. It is encouraging to see a recognition that measures to improve the way we produce, use and dispose of plastics should be balanced against the important role it plays in tackling food waste.
There is a strong focus on food waste, which clearly articulates what the Government expects businesses, local authorities and others to do so that the UK can achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to halve food waste by 2030. This, along with additional funding and proposed legislation, will strengthen the mechanisms already initiated by WRAP to address the stalling in food waste reduction.
In particular, the proposals to introduce mandatory reporting for food businesses has the potential to accelerate engagement with WRAP’s pioneering Food Waste Reduction Roadmap which shows how the UK food industry can implement a strategy to help halve UK food waste by 2030.
We have always been clear that government policy has an important role to play in supporting and driving the change we need to achieve a transformation of the plastics system. The Strategy offers a number of measures which, if they work together in a cohesive way, should reinforce and align with the ambitious targets our members have committed to and are already working on through The UK Plastics Pact. We will need to continue to work closely with Defra to ensure that public policy and industry action integrate seamlessly.
There is much more to be decided through the forthcoming consultations. And there may be some who argue that there is not enough here to make the leap to a genuinely circular economy in quick enough time, given the urgency we face.
However, we believe this Strategy contains clear, well-evidenced policies which should result in a step change in how we manage England’s resources. I am proud of the work WRAP colleagues have done to provide supporting evidence and insights from the frontline which have helped in the shaping of the Strategy. We look forward to working with Defra and our partners to turn these policies into real-world action.