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Rubbish - Government speaks.

December 30, 2018 9:16 PM

The government has published a 'resources and waste strategy', which it describes as ambitious. The document is a blueprint not for action, but for consultation. This means there will be plenty of opportunities for the semi-noble aspirations to be watered down. Here's a review of the document, with direct quotes in italics.

"Our plan is to become a world leader in using resources efficiently and reducing the amount of waste we create as a society."

This rather pathetic desire to be the best in the world recurs throughout the document. The idea seems to be that the rest of the world, in its confusion, is looking to England to show it what to do.

The 'polluter pays' principle is invoked. This is a good idea. Those who make and sell rubbish should have to pay the costs of its disposal. At the moment companies can produce as much rubbish as they want in the knowledge that the taxpayer will pick up both the rubbish and the bill.

The government says it could ban plastic products, though with two caveats - there has to be a clear case for it and alternatives have to exist.

Any practical work emerging from the strategy will have to be carried out by councils. The good news here is that, "Government recognises the financial pressures on local authorities. They will therefore receive additional resource to meet new net costs arising from the policies set out in this Strategy once implemented. This includes both net up front transition costs and net ongoing operational costs."

Another good aspect of the plan is the concept of moving away from weight as the only measure of waste, eg for landfill tax and other calculations. Currently this means that plastic, the lightest part of the waste stream, can be landfilled by the lorry load without much financial penalty.

The authors of the policy think it will lead to a reduction in litter. "There will be a positive effect on littering in society. By reducing waste - particularly single-use plastics - and making it clearer how people should best dispose of unwanted items, the problem of littering will ease."

A tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic content will be imposed. The market at the moment prefers new plastic as it's cheaper than including recycled.

The government still hopes to export waste despite nations such as China being less welcoming to foreign rubbish, though it says it will do so in a more environmentally responsible way.

A Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in England could be introduced for single-use drinks containers, though again this is subject to consultation. The idea of a levy on single use plastic cups in rejected.

The government wants to tighten its control over household and commercial waste collections. Recycling rates increased over the last couple of decades before levelling off. Most councils have gradually improved collection regimes, though there's plenty of variety in what gets collected and when.

"We want comprehensive and frequent waste collection systems that capture as much material as possible, promote householder and business participation, and ensure that high levels of quality recyclable or compostable materials are available for reprocessing."

Government intention is to specify which materials will be collected. The specification would include weekly food waste collections. Wiltshire Council has previously rejected the idea of collecting food waste on the grounds of cost. Waste officers have also claimed that if people had to separate their food waste they would realise how much food they were wasting. Then they'd be more careful and produce waste less food, so the collections would be even more uneconomical.

Contamination of collected recyclate is also a problem, which the government hopes to solve by having greater clarification of what should go into which bin.

Wiltshire may be forced to stop charging for garden waste collection. For West Wiltshire residents this was always a free service until the new unitary authority decided to start charging for it.

"We will consult on the provision of free garden waste collections for households with gardens…"

The government also wants to intervene in the running of Household Recycling Centres (HRCs)to make them more effective. It doesn't like the way Wiltshire and other councils have cut back on their HRCs, either by reducing opening hours, closing facilities, or making them more difficult for people to use. For example WC has restricted use by charities of the HRCs. Rules, it says, need to be clarified. For example DIY enthusiasts shouldn't be classed as traders and banned from using HRCs.

We're also promised a crack down on the various types of criminality associated with the waste disposal industry. These range from fly-tipping to organised crime. Magistrates are to be encouraged to take this seriously and to dish out some meaningful sentences. Apparently at the moment fly-tippers can get caught and pay the fine and still make a profit on the job.

Reduction of food waste generally is seen as a priority. The government wants for example to check the temperature of your fridge to make sure its low enough to stop your milk going off. It also wants to intervene to stop supermarkets imposing unfair contracts on farmers.

Chapter 6 is entitled, "GLOBAL BRITAIN: INTERNATIONAL LEADERSHIP". As mentioned previously this theme runs throughout the document and is something we can expect to get a lot more of as we move to a strident post-Brexit GDR-type mentality.

"We want to share our understanding and skills so that the impact of actions we take here in the UK is magnified globally."

"Leaving the EU means we will take back control of environmental legislation."

"…the UK is driving forward ambitious action to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans. The ground-breaking (sic) Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance (CCOA) with our partner Vanuatu calls on Commonwealth countries to pledge action, whether by banning microbeads in personal care and cosmetic rinse off products, committing to cutting down on single-use plastic bags, or taking steps to eliminate plastic waste. With over a third of the Commonwealth pledging support to the CCOA, we have a significant opportunity to drive forward ambitious global action."

Though if two-thirds of the Commonwealth isn't interested even in this small gesture that's hardly a good start for Global Leadership Britain.

We will also be "Supporting developing nations tackle pollution and reduce plastic waste, including through UK Aid" (sic). Money from the overseas aid budget will be used to tell Commonwealth countries what to do, and that will be used as a blueprint to show other countries how to clean themselves up. They will be grateful to Britain for this.


The strategy is a step in the right direction, though despite its own assertion it probably lacks ambition. The desire to show off and to lead the world in every aspect of waste reduction and recycling is foolish - it would be better to develop competent and efficient systems at home and let other nations make their own judgements, especially as we'll have zero clout after March 2019. It's also naïve to believe that our environmental laws will be better than those of the EU.

The amount of consultation means that many of the finer ideals will be watered down - rubbish producers will be lobbying to avoid the threatened imposition on them of disposal costs currently met by the taxpayer.

It'll be tempting for local authorities to wait for government action before introducing improvements to current recycling systems, so we could end up with a long period of nothing much happening. As councillors we need to make sure that doesn't happen, and that where progress can be made, it is made.

The document