Food waste, urban recycling and the circular economy among Defra research priorities

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has established food waste, urban recycling and the benefits of resource efficiency as ‘high-level’ research and development (R&D) priorities in the department.       

Published on Monday (27 March), the list of priorities sets out the collective areas of research interest across the ‘Defra group’, made up of the department itself and its agencies and public bodies, including the Environment Agency, Rural Payments Agency and Natural England.

Food waste, urban recycling and the circular economy among Defra research priorities
The publication of R&D priorities follows a review of the UK Research Councils carried out by Sir Paul Nurse in 2015 that recommended government departments take more care to establish their strategic research priorities to enable greater engagement.

Instead of setting out topics for research, the department has instead asked 45 questions that it feels encapsulate the work of Defra, saying: ‘The research needs for Defra are extensive and this statement of research interest cannot be comprehensive. Therefore, in developing this document, Defra has formulated a series of high-level questions that express the evidence challenges the department faces.’

These questions, Defra says, are intended to be ‘long-term, cross-cutting and large-scale’ to ensure that they are ‘robust to changes over short timescales’.

Defra has sectioned the questions into several categories: Defra group strategic and cross-cutting issues, natural environment, rural communities, floods, food and farming, environmental quality, marine and fisheries, waste, and animal health and welfare.

Following the publication of the questions, Defra is asking for feedback from stakeholders to be sent to

Among the questions asked by Defra are:

Defra group strategic and cross-cutting issues:

  • How do we achieve growth, value and impact for customers and consumers through better and more effective policymaking?
  • What are the benefits of greater resource efficiency to enable sustainable growth across the economy and Defra’s sectors specifically (e.g. food, farming, etc.) and how ‘circular’ can our economy be?
  • How should Defra invest in the development and deployment of new and emerging technologies?
  • How effective have policy interventions been in securing positive environmental outcomes across our policy areas, alongside maintaining economic, social and health benefits?
  • How can we make more effective use of observations, data and processes to better understand risk, uncertainties and complexities in decision-making?

Natural environment:

  • Which actions by individuals, communities, business and government, including the use of new technologies, would most effectively and efficiently improve the status of our natural environment and secure economic, social and health benefits at home and overseas? What information, data and tools are required to support effective actions?

Food and farming:

  • What are the key medium- and long-term challenges and threats to our food supply? How can we prepare to respond, to safeguard a viable food supply in the face of climate change and changing demand?
  • How can we ensure that we (and others) make the most of data from statutory monitoring, statistics and research, including farmers and other businesses across the food chain, to access innovation, decision support tools and knowledge exchange, whilst removing inefficient regulation?

Environmental quality:

  • How can we minimise food waste and encourage urban recycling?

Marine and fisheries:

  • How can we achieve and maintain clean and safe seas free from harmful impacts of hazardous substances, nutrients and organic matter, microbial contaminants and litter?

The full list of Defra’s R&D priorities can be found on the department’s website.

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