Manifestos hold little for waste-watchers

16th April 2015 Posted by

Waste-watchers scouring the main parties’ 2015 election manifestos for evidence of a “Damascene conversion” to the circular economy and resource efficiency will find lean pickings, and probably view what little there is with a degree of cynicism.

The Labour party manifesto makes no mention of our sector, instead concentrating its environmental pledges on carbon reduction and energy management in the context of combatting climate change. A charitable reader might infer an oblique reference to our sector in Labour’s commitment to support the green economy, by creating a million new green jobs and by giving the Green Investment Bank “additional powers so that it can invest in green businesses and technology”, but that is about all.

The Conservative party manifesto claims that “We have been the greenest government ever” owing to the creation of the Green Investment Bank (an achievement also appropriated by the Liberal Democrats) and driving forward nuclear and renewable energy projects. No mention of wider resource efficiency issues or of resource security, despite committing continued support for its “Eight Great Technologies … where Britain is set to be a global leader.”

Worryingly the Conservatives will “change the [planning] law so that local people have the final say on windfarm applications”. A crowd-pleaser no doubt, but any extension of this principle to other locally sensitive activities (such as in the waste sector) will all but emasculate the new builds that the circular economy will require.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto explicitly mentions the circular economy, and broadly follows their pre-manifesto pledges, for instance committing to the introduction of a Resource Efficiency and Zero Waste Act, similar in scope and design to the proposal by SUEZ environnement for a UK Resource Management Act. The Lib Dems also commit to reinstating the Landfill Tax escalator, consulting on an Incineration Tax, establishing “a statutory waste recycling target of 70% in England”, and further encouraging anaerobic digestion by extending separate food waste collections to at least 90% of homes by 2020.  Unfortunately, if the Lib Dems form part of the next government, it is most likely to be as a partner in coalition. The performance of the Lib Dems in the current post of Minister for Resource Management does not bode well for its party commitments on waste and resources.

At the time of writing, news reports suggest that UKIP is out-polling the Lib Dems and its 2015 manifesto, Believe in Britain, contains only one solitary nod to the resource management sector – a reinstatement of weekly bin collections for those who have “lost and want them”.

As far as the wider environmental issues go, UKIP’s headline pledge to scrap the 2008 Climate Change Act, to facilitate the re-introduction of “low-cost fossil fuels” – perhaps tells us all we need to know about their attitudes towards environmental sustainability.

The Green Party manifesto predictably spends the most time on environmental issues – particularly energy policy and climate change – though waste gets a mention. The Greens will “aim to recycle” 70% of domestic waste by 2020 (a tall order given our struggle to reach even 50% by 2020) and ban the landfilling of organic waste. They will also increase national spending on “recycling and waste disposal” by £4 billion a year “so we can do away with damaging incineration and landfill”. Clearly the battles of the distant past are still fresh in the minds of Green Party waste strategists.

Under the banner “Greens in power carry out our policies”, their manifesto lauds the creation of accessible public spaces in Brighton as a success, but fails to mention their less than stellar stewardship of waste management in Brighton – in 2013/14, the Council’s recycling rate was 25%, placing it among the poorer local authority performers.

The contrast with the main party manifestos of 2010 is striking. All of them referred to waste management. The Lib Dems pledged to “use the substantial purchasing power of government to expand the markets for green products and technologies” (what happened to that?). Labour promised to ban recyclable and biodegradable materials from landfill and introduce ‘recycling on the go’. The Conservatives committed to introduce a Responsibility Deal on waste, reward schemes for householders, and to set a floor for landfill tax (all achieved).

What should we make of all this? Clearly, this time round the environment only figures as a peripheral issue in the electoral calculations of the main parties. Given the challenges our economy has faced, this should come as no surprise, though it does point up the futility of worthy but seemingly toothless pre-election policy reviews such as the Conservatives’ 2020 Group’s Sweating our Assets, and Labour’s Resource Security – Growth and Jobs from Waste Industries in shaping actual manifesto commitments. The Lib Dem manifesto stands out in this regard, though whether the opportunity to put their commitments into practice arises is another matter.

But a more positive view is that there is still all to play for. Any incoming UK Government will want to firm up on its strategy for waste and resources, so our sector needs to get its act together and stand ready to present clear, consensual policies across the supply chain, designed to stimulate UK jobs and sustainable economic growth.

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