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The greenest Government ever?

23rd July 2013 Posted by

For a government that aspires to be the ‘greenest ever’, the recent unveiling of two documents – the Defra/BIS-supported circular economy taskforce report ‘Resource Resilient UK’ and Defra’s consultation on its ‘Waste Management Plan for England’ – has gone almost unnoticed. No fanfare, no trumpeting of the Government’s green credentials or of new initiatives to support green growth.

Ever since the ‘Government Review of Waste Policy’ in 2011, Defra has been downplaying the ambition of the English waste management plan that was to follow. The draft plan more than lives up to these dampened expectations. For a document that one would expect to be setting a farsighted course for resource and waste management up to a decade into the future, it is bland almost to the point of irrelevance. The three-week consultation period afforded to the draft plan would generally be regarded as derisory for a subject so important to the UK’s future economic wellbeing, but here it reflects the plan’s lack of drive and substance.

One would also be hard-pressed to detect much meeting of minds between the draft plan and the taskforce report. While accepting that businesses can, should, and do, take action on their own to secure their supply chains, the report points out that action by Government is nevertheless necessary in order to tackle structural market barriers. For example, the assumption that, because material availability and cost have been unproblematic in the past, they won’t be in the future. Yet even the modest government interventions recommended by the report are not acknowledged in the plan. Terminology and ideologies clash: the plan refers to a ‘zero waste economy’ as its strategic goal, while the report takes a more visionary resource-focused view and hardly mentions the word ‘waste’.

Transforming our economy to become more circular is too important to leave to the vagaries of the market. By continuing to act as a mere bystander, the UK government is in danger of sleepwalking into a resource crisis of its own making.

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