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Defra’s disappointing waste consultation

6th September 2013 Posted by

True to form, Defra has followed up a disappointing consultation on a waste management plan for England with an equally disappointing consultation document on a waste prevention programme for England. As with the former, the abiding impression is that of another tick-box exercise intended to meet the UK’s obligations under Article 29 of the European Union Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC.

The consultation is more a high-level discussion of the principles behind a possible waste prevention programme for England, than an invitation to comment on a concrete programme complete with facts, figures, targets, metrics, actions, quantified outcomes and milestones. Given that the waste prevention programme is to be published in December, the consultation is hardly a serious attempt to address this difficult issue.

Especially disappointing is the absence of quantitative targets, which are essential if any waste-related plan or programme is to be taken seriously. In contrast, Scotland has committed to cutting total waste from households and businesses by 5 per cent by 2015 and 15 per cent by 2025, with the latter designed to deliver annual resource efficiency savings of up to £1.4 billion. Wales is committed to annual reductions in household, industrial and commercial waste of 1.2 per cent, 1.4 per cent and 1.2 per cent respectively by 2050, supported by further sector-specific targets.

Directive 2008/98/EC lists a host of enabling measures that might be considered by Member States – among them planning measures, economic instruments promoting the efficient use of resources, the promotion of eco-design principles and the like. None of these are discussed in the consultation. With the meager fare on offer here, an opportunity to engage in other than a superficial way with stakeholders has been squandered.

Accepting that everyone in society has a responsibility to cut waste, Governments must do more than express good intentions. Environmental improvements do not happen by themselves – the economic signals are simply not strong or visible enough for the average householder or resource-hungry business to spontaneously change their production methods and consumption practices. By taking a back seat, Defra seems to have abrogated its responsibility to design the new policies and legal instruments that are needed to shape the environmental outcomes we desire.

First published on Materials Recycling World (02 September 2013) – http://www.mrw.co.uk/opinion/defra-waste-consultation-disappointing/8652591.article?blocktitle=Opinion&contentID=2198.

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