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The EAC and EFRA reports give Defra and the next Government a useful route map

3rd November 2014 Posted by

The Government’s response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s Inquiry Growing a Circular Economy: Ending the Throwaway Society contains the now-familiar mixture of mild ambition and platitudes that characterised its evidence before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s Inquiry Waste Management in England. There, the Government was taken to task for ‘stepping back’ precisely at a time when vision, a refreshed policy toolkit and strong leadership were needed. The EAC’s recommendations to Government were couched in more technical language, but the underlying message was the same – Government needed to step up rather than step back, because the circular economy required active facilitation through the right policy responses, many of which only governments could deliver.

What are the right policies and levers? The Committees are in broad agreement where the subject matter overlaps – harmonising waste collection systems (particularly for food waste), acknowledging and working towards the European Commission’s ambitious recycling target, and developing a coherent energy-from-waste policy.

The Government’s response is to agree on the general principles, but to stop short of active intervention. This stance is especially puzzling in relation to harmonised waste collection systems, given that DCLG has been pushing its ‘bin bible’ and standardised weekly collections with unremitting zeal. With regard to more ambitious recycling targets, if Government is committed to making England’s economy more circular, it should hardly need to be told by the European Commission that higher recycling rates would bring added economic and environmental benefits and wait for them to be imposed before stirring into action. Where Scotland and Wales have boldly taken the lead, England’s policy-makers continue to tread water.

Relative to the EFRA Inquiry, the EAC report covered a wider range of issues commensurate with the Inquiry’s ‘circular’ remit – product eco-design, the removal of trade and tax barriers to incentivise reuse and remanufacture, improving resource productivity, using the power of green public procurement to drive the market for recycled and reusable goods, etc. Here, the Government’s responses to the EAC’s recommendations strike a more positive note. We expect the Government to back up its commitment to reform existing EU legislation in this area, when negotiations on the European Commission’s circular economy package commence in earnest next year.

England lacks a vision for its circular economy – where, pragmatically, the boundaries might lie, what metrics should be tracked, and what success should look like in terms of the economic and environmental benefits circularity will deliver. The EFRA and EAC reports provide Defra and the next Government with a useful route map.

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