It's time to take control of our waste policy

FCC Environment Communications Director Kristian Dales argues that now is the time to address historic system constraints in the waste industry.

It's time to take control of our waste policy
Two months on from the result of the referendum, we are still no closer to understanding where or how the government will support our industry in order to maximise our great potential in contributing to the UK economy.

Admittedly, we have been divided for some time in our approach to dealing with waste as a resource, a situation compounded by the absence of clear legislative and fiscal drivers, particularly in England. There is then the bigger issue of addressing the country’s energy needs.

If it had been suggested that the UK was lagging behind our counterpart neighbours in energy from waste (EfW) infrastructure and development (which we are all aware, has been the case), the recent referendum result presents us with an opportunity to show just how greatly we can adapt and thrive during times of change: this needs to start by pushing EfW up the political agenda.

In 2014, our Mapping the politics of waste report examined the political dynamics at play in five key areas: recycling targets, the zero waste agenda, the circular economy, resource efficiency, and green investment. Two years on, it is frustrating to see that little has been done to address the underlying market tensions highlighted in this report.

Infrastructure capability and a lack of investment in new waste facilities remains a pressing concern, given the government’s closure of PFI support and an inconsistent approach to renewables incentives for energy recovery. New merchant EfW is coming on-stream, which could help build a new domestic market for refuse derived fuels (RDF). However, speculation over whether EfW should be regarded as a ‘transitional technology’ is fuelling yet more uncertainty.

The reality of Brexit means that the industry needs clarity on its direction of travel: now more than ever.

Let’s face facts. The majority of waste and recycling directives are borne out of Brussels, and the most recent Circular Economy Package outlined ambitions that were unattainable in the UK. Some may welcome severing our ties to the EU, in hope that as part of the current negotiations our entire waste policy is reassessed: a chance to address historic system constraints – weak policy, outdated legislation, devolved agendas, and a lack of leadership on vision or strategy.

If we want to prosper outside of Europe we need to fully capitalise on our ability to improve the UK’s energy and resource security, much stronger domestic policy is needed to move forward with confidence and certainty.