Resources and Waste Minister, Dr Therese Coffey was unable to deliver her speech on the future of waste and recycling in the UK to the Aldersgate Group event in London yesterday (31 Jan). But Chris Preston, Deputy Director of Waste and Recycling at DEFRA was on hand to deliver her comments.
She gave the view that the UK's exit from the EU presented a 'unique opportunity' to drive up resource productivity in the UK - and the address continued: "Up to now, much of our policy in this area has been driven by the need to meet EU waste targets, leading to a focus on recycling heavy things without actually thinking about the value or the environmental impact of those materials or without thinking about the best process for maximising the benefit we get from them.
“One of the biggest surprises I have had since becoming a minister is to learn how much of our recycling target is met through things like garden waste.
“While we are going to maintain a commitment to driving up performance on recycling and continue to engage in the negotiations on the Circular Economy package we’re also going to look at how we can extend this focus to incentivise a much wider range of activities that promote resource efficiency before these materials become waste.“
Questions were taken from the floor and Chris Preston's said that the Government's approach would be outlined further still in DEFRA's 25-Year Plan for the Natural Environment - which is due out 'very soon'.
His other comments included the following:
“In responding to these challenges, business is absolutely critical, business has to take the lead. This can’t just be about producers, it has to be a two-way street with reprocessors as well. Government also has a key role to play, we can’t regulate to force this change, but we can ensure the right policy framework is in place to support the market.”
“From my perspective the time feels right in terms of the resource efficiency agenda. We have got the 25-year environment plan and the Industrial Strategy, we’ve got the government’s chief scientific adviser’s waste and resource productivity report and the Circular Economy package negotiations happening so it is against a backdrop of really moving this agenda forward and making a huge difference for the UK economy.”
Reacting to the address and Chris Preston's comments, Lee Marshall, LARAC CEO observed: " The recent speech on behalf of the DEFRA Minister that they want the UK to be one of the most resource efficient countries in the world is very welcome and is something that DEFRA officials have spoken of since the referendum vote. The use of the language is both interesting and encouraging and seems to indicate a real desire to embrace true circular economy principles and move away from weight based recycling focus. LARAC welcomes the acknowledgement that producers and reprocessors need to lead this move so allowing local authorities to support them with our efficient collection systems designed around the materials they place on the market and that have viable end markets. However, we still need Government to set the right conditions that encourage and push business to take the lead so we would not want to see this as a signal that DEFRA will take a step back from waste policy."
Note: Aldersgate Group - an environmental consortium of business leaders and politicians - the speech was given at the launch of their 'Amplifying Action on Resource Efficiency'