Steve Reed sets Defra priority to ‘create roadmap to a zero waste economy’

Steve Reed, the newly appointed Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has swiftly set out his five priorities that include waste resources. 

Steve Reed, Defra Secretary of StateIn a video released today, Reed said: "I have asked the department to get to work on my five core priorities." Among these, he stated is, "creating a roadmap to move Britain to a zero waste economy".

It remains to be seen if the development of a new programme will result in the recently departed Conservative Government’s programme to implement the Resources and Waste Strategy will now be subject to significant review. As of today, the waste resources portfolio is yet to be assigned.

Given that outgoing Government had put in place an active programme following the Resources and Waste Strategy, this statement appears to throw into doubt...

Industry insiders are speculating that Ruth Jones, Labour MP for Newport West and Islwyn, could be handed the role. Jones, who served as Shadow Minister for Environmental Protection and Animal Welfare prior to the election, has consistently shown a keen interest in the Circular Economy. In a parliamentary debate last year, she accused then-prime minister Rishi Sunak of using recycling as a "political football" and stated that a Labour administration would make support for a circular economy a "real priority".

Jones has also been vocal in praising progressive waste management policies, recently commending Wales for being the second-best recycler in the world. She tweeted last month: "Wales is a world leader in recycling - 2nd best in the world according to this new study. It shows what we can do with ambition, determination and vision. This achievement belongs to all of us."

As the waste resources portfolio is yet to be assigned, industry stakeholders have been keen to put forward an agenda for the new government.

Industry Reaction

Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), expressed hope for renewed policy drive: "With a large parliamentary majority, we hope that this brings stability, clarity and renewed drive to policy delivery for our sector, which will allow our members to invest billions in world-class new recycling infrastructure and services, decarbonise the treatment of the nation's rubbish, and help meet the environmental targets to which this new Government is bound."

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) welcomed the new government and called for prioritisation of key waste management reforms. LARAC Chair Cathy Cook stated: "We look forward to collaborating with the new government to enhance the effectiveness of waste collection and recycling systems in the UK. It is imperative that we work together to achieve our collective environmental goals."

LARAC specifically called for timely implementation of packaging Extended Producer Responsibility (pEPR), reconsideration of residual waste collection frequencies, and a delay in Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) implementation until after pEPR and Simpler Recycling reforms are fully operational.

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) welcomed the new Secretary of State and his colleagues, stating: "CIWM is committed to working across government to realise Labour's manifesto commitment to 'reduce waste by moving to a circular economy.'"

CIWM recently published a resources policy blueprint containing ten 'policy asks' designed to accelerate the transition to a more resource resilient and circular economy. These recommendations include implementing existing Resources & Waste Strategy policies, creating a cross-government resource resilience task force, launching a Green Skills Fund, and introducing targeted Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for several key product types in the first two years. For the following three to five years, CIWM proposes developing a Circular Economy Plan, pricing raw materials to include negative environmental externalities, introducing targeted economic instruments, strengthening eco-design and waste prevention, and ensuring adequate funding for regulators.

Michael Topham, CEO of Biffa, welcomed the new government and emphasised the need for policy stability: "A stable and clear policy environment with realistic timetables and as much consistency as possible across all devolved nations will be key to allowing the waste sector to invest and innovate."

Sian Sutherland, Co-founder of A Plastic Planet & Plastic Health Council, called for ambitious action: "Now is the time for ambition and for the UK to lead. Piecemeal bans and tired models of recycling won't cut it... Clear and comprehensive policy that takes a long-term vision over short-term tokenism is the only vehicle to fight the impact of plastic on our bodies and planet."

Jane Martin, CEO of City to Sea, urged for concrete steps towards a circular economy: "To end the array of broken pledges, Labour must mandate a UK-wide all-in deposit return scheme, set legally binding reusable packaging targets, and implement a complete ban on all unnecessary single-use plastics."

Chris Huhne, chair of ADBA (Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association), emphasised the potential of biogas: "Green gas can and should grow faster than wind, and second only to solar according to International Energy Agency projections... Energy from home-grown green gas will overtake energy from nuclear by 2029 on current trends.”