While the BBC debate mainly focused on inflation and the pair’s plans for taxes, Ms Truss, a former environment secretary, highlighted food waste as a “huge problem”, while Mr Sunak said recycling was one of the key steps people could take to tackle climate change.
Both candidates are signatories to the Conservative Environment Pledge, which was created by the Conservative Environment Network, an independent forum for conservatives who support conservation and decarbonisation.
The pledge commits candidates to addressing environmental challenges by “delivering our 2050 net zero goal, halting the decline in nature by 2030, and tackling air and river pollution”.
The commitment included a pledge to implement the Environment Act, which will give ministers the power to introduce a range of waste reforms such as extended producer responsibility (EPR).
This will be a welcome boost for many in the industry, who had felt the government had cold feet about implementing EPR during a cost of living crisis.
When host Sophie Raworth gave the pair a chance to show their environmental credentials by asking what three things people could do to tackle climate change, Mr Sunak, the former chancellor, mentioned recycling as one of the key steps.
[Recycling] is a pain and you need lots of bins, but it is very good for the environment
– Rishi Sunak
He explained: “I will tell you advice from my two young daughters who are the experts of this in my household. And what they say to me is reducing energy usage and the benefit of that is that it saves us money as well, so government should do more on that.
“The second one is recycling, and that is something we are obsessive about in my house. I know it’s a pain and you need lots of bins, but it is very good for the environment.
“And I think the third thing is that we have to focus on innovation. If we are to solve this problem, our researchers, inventors and companies need to create the solutions to the problems of the 21st century. That’s what I saw on my business career working around the world, and that’s what we need to focus on as a country and that’s how we’ll leave things better for our children.”
Following Mr Sunak’s answer, Ms Truss explained that she was an environmentalist “before it was cool”, and had “always taken a view we should save our resources”.
The bookmakers’ favourite for the role added: “I am naturally a thrifty person. I like saving money and it also helps the environment. It’s about using less, wasting less, particularly food waste which I think is a massive problem in this country, but also the innovation that we need to get the new technology we need to do things better.
“Whether that’s electric vehicles or insultation in the home, but what I don’t want to see is ordinary households penalised by our net zero targets.
“So, I would lift the green energy levy and cut money from people’s fuel bills while looking for better ways to deliver out net zero targets.”
One senior commentator was pleased recycling and food waste in particular were mentioned in such a high-profile forum. However, on Twitter, the reception was more mixed.
I think Sunak needs to realise climate change needs addressing by more than recycling.
— Kay Day (@KayDayz) July 26, 2022
I don't give a TOSS whether either Sunak or Truss are recycling their bottles or driving electric cars. What will they do WITH POLICY???
— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) July 25, 2022
All eyes will now be on 5 September, when the party will declare its next leader and thus the next Prime Minister.