Government

Gove urged to ‘take urgent action’ on falling recycling rates

New Environment Secretary Michael Gove has been urged to take ‘urgent action’ on the UK’s falling recycling rate as one of his top priorities in his new role.

 Michael Gove named as controversial choice for Environment Secretary
The Trade Association Group (TAG), an umbrella group comprising the UK’s top waste and resource management companies and organisations, has reiterated its desire to see the newly elected government give urgent priority to the waste and resources sector in a letter to Gove.

Restating the points made in a statement prior to the general election earlier this month (8 June), TAG is seeking an ‘early meeting’ with Gove to discuss the sector’s three priorities: setting out a long-term policy framework, taking urgent action to reverse falling recycling rates, and tackling waste crime.

Following the shock election result in which the Conservatives lost their overall majority in the House of Commons, and the return of Michael Gove to the Tory front bench as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a controversial choice given his rocky track record on the environment, uncertainty continues to reign supreme for the waste and resources sector.

TAG comprises the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ABDA), Chartered Institution of Waste Management (CIWM), Environmental Services Association (ESA), Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Renewable Energy Association (REA), Resource Association, and Wood Recyclers Association (WRA). The group covers the entire waste and resource supply chain, from local authorities and private-sector collection and treatment companies to material processors and the renewable energy sector.

In its letter to Gove, the group highlights the need for a long-term stability for the industry and reaffirms the importance of embedding resource efficiency into forward-thinking strategies for industry and the environment, stating: ‘We believe that improvements in resource efficiency – the way in which materials, energy, and water are used in the UK economy – should be a central theme in the next government’s industrial and environmental policies and strategies, notably the 25 Year Environmental Plan, the UK Industrial Strategy, and the National Infrastructure Assessment.’

TAG’s priority areas for action are:

  • ‘Set out a long-term policy framework for waste and resource management, building on the foundations previously laid out by European waste and resource legislation, so that the industry has the confidence to invest in the infrastructure urgently needed to maximise the recovery of valuable materials, energy and nutrients from waste. 

  • ‘Take urgent action to reverse the decline in recycling rates. More needs to be done to prevent food waste, to increase separate collections of food waste from homes and businesses when it can’t be prevented, and to increase the demand for secondary raw materials. 

  • ‘Tackle the escalating levels of waste crime, which costs the UK economy over £600 million a year, blights local communities and the environment, and undermines legitimate businesses. The latest ESA-led report on this subject, “Rethinking Waste Crime”, contains a number of important recommendations on how to tackle the problem, in particular by making it harder for criminals to enter the industry. These measures need to be implemented as a matter of urgency.’

Priorities and ministry remains unchanged

The priorities for the waste and resources sector remain constant following the election, with a desire for clarity even higher on the agenda. Prior to the election, a number of manifestos for the next government were released by the industry, including CIWM’s Resource Productivity Manifesto, the Resource Association’s ‘Manifesto for Resources 2017’ and the Environmental Services Association’s ‘Resourceful’ manifesto, outlining the sector’s priorities.

While Gove’s appointment has drawn the ire of environmentalists, with Green Party Co-Leader Caroline Lucas stated Gove was “unfit” to be Environment Secretary and a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth called his appointment a “concern”, the limited upheaval in the rest of the department will give the waste and resources sector some hope of finding the certainty it so desperately craves.

Therese Coffey will remain as Resources Minister after having spent last weekend at a G7 Environment meeting in Italy, despite some initial predictions that she would be replaced, while George Eustice retains his position as Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, while Lord Gardiner of Kimble remained as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity.

While the longevity of the new government remains in doubt, the relative stability within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs may ease some of the fears within the industry as it awaits the publication of the 25-year plan for the environment, which was due for release until the general election was called in April.

The full letter from the Trade Association Group to Michael Gove can be read here.

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