Waste sector voices concerns over Defra cut backs

The waste industry has voiced its concerns over Defras plans to reduce its policy and funding activities in the sector, as announced by new resource minister Dan Rogerson.

Mr Rogerson wrote to members of the sector earlier this week (see letsrecycle.com story) to inform them that while waste remained one of his priorities, the Department will only focus on the essential areas of work due to financial pressures.

Clockwise from top left: Steve Lee (CIWM), David Palmer-Jones (ESA / SITA UK), Ray Georgeson (Resource Association) and Barry Dennis (ESA)
Clockwise from top left: Steve Lee (CIWM), David Palmer-Jones (ESA / SITA UK), Ray Georgeson (Resource Association) and Barry Dennis (ESA)

While respondents CIWM, ESA and the Resource Association sympathised with the governments budgetary constraints, they voiced concerns about the impact the cut backs will have on a number of areas, including the level of waste crime and councils progress on improving recycling rates.

Addressing the cut backs to support for local authorities, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) director Steve Lee argued that it could threaten the strong progress made on recycling so far.

He said: There are areas where government has to take a lead role, particularly in the interface with consumers. Local authorities are facing unprecedented budgetary pressures and while efficiency savings are essential, waste is a frontline service that doesn’t sit still. At the same time that improvements in recycling are starting to struggle, authorities are under pressure to take action on food waste, to respond to the requirements in the Waste Framework Directive to increase and improve the quality of recycling, and to play a role in waste prevention as outlined in the government’s recent consultation.

Reducing the amount of government support available to help councils tackle these challenges threatens much of the strong progress made to date that the Minister is so keen to highlight in his letter.

Waste prevention should be a top priority for Defra moving forwards, according to Mr Lee, who added that CIWM is disappointed with the limited work on waste prevention noted in the letter. He added that the UK will need to be in a position to deliver more ambitious targets which are likely to come from the Commissions waste policy review (see letsrecycle.com story). However, he believes this can only be delivered by government and taking our foot off the accelerator now will damage our ability to move towards a more resource efficient and ‘green’ economy in the future.

Waste crime

Mr Rogerson said waste remains a priority for Defra
Mr Rogerson said waste remains a priority for Defra

Barry Dennis, director general for the waste sector trade body the Environmental Services Association (ESA), said: ESA Members well understand the resource constraints the government is under and Defras Waste and Resources Team cant be exempt from those. But our members will be very concerned if cutbacks at Defra undermine efforts by the Environment Agency to tackle waste crime, which harms the environment and local communities as well as undermining legitimate businesses. Only if waste crime is kept to a minimum will ESA members be able to make the substantial investment needed to develop new facilities to recover and recycle waste properly.

ESA chairman and chief executive of SITA UK, David Palmer-Jones added that the sector can contribute to the UKs economic growth. But he raised concerns about the governments call for the private sector to take the lead which will come to nothing unless Government continues to take firm action to implement and enforce regulation.

Mr Palmer-Jones added: With a looming capacity gap, flat lining recycling rates and difficult market conditions, Defra’s ongoing involvement is vital.

Honesty

Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the Resource Association the trade body representing the recycling and reprocessing sector praised Mr Rogerson for his directness and honesty but said the message does generate concerns.

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CIWM

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He said: In the present economic and political climate there is an inevitability about this announcement and it is right for government to step back where the business case for action is made and markets are working to drive resource efficiency forward. However, tone and signals are important and so as a first major announcement from him it does generate concerns, as there is a real danger it sends a negative message to investors and the public alike that the government is disengaging.

Mr Georgeson noted the ministers efforts to reassure the industry and suggested that the MRF regulations would be a good starting point. We therefore look to him for some early practical signs of this. A good starting point would be clarity on the timetable and detail of the proposed MRF regulations, which we are pleased to see he specifically mentions in his letter and commits to implementing.

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