Government must ‘make up for lost time’ on resources and waste after election

The resources and waste sector has responded to the Conservatives’ landslide election victory with a call to revive the legislative programme set in motion by the Resources and Waste Strategy and the Environment Bill.

In what was a historic result, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won 364 seats in yesterday’s (12 December) general election, securing a 78-seat majority in the House of Commons, its largest majority since 1987. By contrast, Labour suffered a disastrous night, losing 59 seats to secure 203 overall, making it its worst result since 1935.

The result means that Johnson will find it much easier to get his legislative agenda through Parliament, particularly his EU Withdrawal Agreement, which is expected to return to the Commons next week.

The Houses of Parliament.With regard to the resources and waste sector, the industry will now hope to see a reanimation of the legislation contained in the Environment Bill that failed to pass through Parliament before the start of the election campaign. The Conservative manifesto’s commitments on resources and waste echoed the policies of the Environment Bill, with the addition of a ban on the exporting of plastic waste, and the government will be expected to abide by these.

The Conservatives have pledged to introduce a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) to assume the oversight and enforcement powers of the European Commission post-Brexit, a tax on the manufacture and import of plastic packaging with less than 30 per cent recycled content, a deposit return scheme (DRS) for single-use drinks containers and an extended producer responsibility (EPR) regime for packaging.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, the sector has called for the government to make the enactment of this agenda a priority. Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the trade association for the UK’s waste management sector, said that the result signalled “continuity” for the sector, adding: “We would like to see the new Conservative government quickly rekindle the legislative programme introduced under the Environment Bill in the autumn, so that progress can be made against the Resources and Waste Strategy, and we can make up for lost time.”

The desire to see the Resources and Waste Strategy carried to fruition was echoed by the main waste management companies, with Managing Director of Viridor Phil Piddington saying “it is crucial for the UK to continue the momentum which has already been achieved with this strategy if it is to translate its circular economy ambitions into action”, unlocking some £10 billion of investment.

David Palmer-Jones, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, reiterated the need to unlock investment in the sector, urging the government to “push ahead once more with the raft of once-in-a lifetime environmental legislation”, with its swift enactment offering “the capacity to unlock the regulations required to secure the investment needed by our sector to bring about wholesale reforms that will enable industry, local authorities and consumers to make sustainable decisions about the products they manufacture, buy, use and discard”.

Local authorities

The legislative agenda laid out in the Resources and Waste Strategy and Environment Bill in the last Parliament will have a significant impact on local authorities, with proposals to introduce separate collections of food waste to every household in England, provide free garden waste collections and consistency in recycling collections promising big changes for councils and their service provision. Meanwhile, the introduction of DRS and EPR will impact on local authority revenues from recyclate and service expenditure.

Lee Marshall, Chief Executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), said: “For our industry the outcome of the election should mean we continue on the path set out when the Resource and Waste Strategy was launched a year ago. We would expect the next round of consultations on consistency, DRS and EPR to come out in 2020. LARAC’s focus will be to continue our engagement with Defra on these vital issues and work hard on our members behalf to ensure these critical changes in waste policy work for local authorities.”

Net Zero

While Brexit dominated the election campaign – with Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done’ mantra a repetitive presence – the environment was more prominent than ever before. “In his victory speech this morning, the prime minister pledged ‘to make this country the cleanest, greenest on earth, with the most far-reaching environmental programme’”, said Libby Peake, Senior Consultant at Green Alliance. “This is a bold promise that must now be backed up with action – and there are plenty of groups in the growing environmental movement that will be keen to hold the government to this promise.

“For the waste and resources sector in particular, the outcome will hopefully mean the government can build on the high level ambitions in the 2018 resources and waste strategy through ambitious environment legislation as promised in the Conservatives plan for their first 100 days.”

The government’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is at the heart of its environmental agenda. Achieving such a target will necessitate a large shift to renewable energy sources, a portion of which can come from biogas produced through the anaerobic digestion of food waste. A spokesperson for the renewable energy trade association REA, whose Organics and Biogas groups promote the conversion of food waste into energy, called on the government to be ambitious with its energy goals: “The new government must be more ambitious and commit to wholesale systems change across energy, in particular for transport and waste, required to unleash the full potential of renewable energy and clean technology.”

Parliamentary shake-up

The election results saw a mixed bag for MPs at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and environmental parliamentary committees, with several big names losing their seats. Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers clung onto her seat in Chipping Barnet, winning 44.7 per cent of the vote ahead of her Labour rival’s 42.6 per cent of the vote, while Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith lost his Richmond Park seat to Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney, who regained the seat she lost in 2017, winning 53.1 per cent of the vote to Goldsmith’s 41.2.

Labour’s shadow Defra team endured a night to forget as Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman lost her Workington seat with 39.2 per cent of the vote to Conservative Mark Jenkinson’s 49.3 per cent, while Shadow Waste and Recycling Minister Sandy Martin lost his Ipswich seat to Conservative Tom Hunt, securing 39.3 per cent of the vote against Hunt’s 50.3 per cent.

Elsewhere, former Chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Mary Creagh lost her Wakefield seat, which she had held since 2005, with 39.8 per cent of the vote against her Conservative rival Imran Ahmad-Khan’s 47.3 per cent. Creagh had been vocal in holding the government to account over its environmental policies during her time on the EAC, leading inquiries into the 25 Year Environment Plan, fast fashion and the impact of coffee cups.

Environment Ministers Rebecca Pow and George Eustice both comfortably retained their seats of Taunton Deane and Camborne and Redruth, winning 53.6 per cent and 53.1 per cent of the vote respectively, while Neil Parish, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee retained his Tiverton and Honiton seat with 60.2 per cent of the vote.

Boris Johnson will now be expected to carry out a cabinet reshuffle over the weekend, with Villiers expected to retain her role as Environment secretary, though eyes will be on who will replace Goldsmith. The new make-up of the environmental select committees will also be decided in the early weeks of the new Parliament, with MPs voting for the Chairs and members once the number of Chairs allotted to each party has been decided.

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