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EFRA Committee reports on state of waste management in England

24th October 2014 Posted by

Defra may have hoped that fences had been mended with the waste management sector since its now infamous letter last November, which announced that it would be “stepping back from areas where there was no sign of market failure”.

However, those hopes must surely have been dashed by the publication of the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee’s report – Waste Management in England earlier this week.

If anything, the committee, and the witnesses appearing before it, saw clear and present market failures lurking in almost every corner. Among them – pressure on recycling rates, the very real danger of England not meeting its 50 per cent household waste recycling target by 2020, a plethora of different collection systems confusing the public, and a misaligned energy-from-waste policy that left domestic power and heat generation in limbo.

In my view, in the face of the evidence put before the Committee, Defra’s refusal to acknowledge that it still had a vital leadership role to play was troubling.

Apart from articulating a vision and setting an agenda for resource management well into the future, the verbal and written evidence pointed to policy levers that only central government can control. For example, the need to harmonise waste collection and recycling systems, particularly with respect to food waste; the re-introduction of local authority recycling targets, alongside financial support to meet them; and driving recyclable materials out of landfill in order for the UK to reach 70 per cent recycling by 2030, regardless of whether formal targets are in place.

If there is one disappointment, it is that two separate Select Committee Inquiries have approached the same question from different angles – this one, and the Environmental Audit Committee’s Inquiry Growing a Circular Economy: Ending the Throwaway Society, published in July 2014. The Inquiries shared many of the same witnesses, and the underlying message was the same – England still had a long way to go to build a circular economy, and government had a key role in driving circularity, by flexing its purchasing power and by pulling various fiscal and regulatory levers.

Merge and rationalise the recommendations from the two reports, and Defra has a blueprint for what it needs to do. Food for thought for the post-election government because most waste-watchers have lost confidence in the present one.

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