What are UK party manifestos saying about resources and waste?


10 Downing Street

What are England’s five biggest political parties saying they would do to reduce waste, maximise resources, and transition the UK to a circular economy?

The Labour manifesto is A5 and 135 pages long, the Conservative’s is A4 and 76 pages, and the Liberal Democrat’s is A5 and 116 pages. But how many words do England’s biggest political parties dedicate to the Resources and Waste Sector?

Keep reading to find out what the next government’s resource and waste policies could look like.

Labour commits to a circular economy

circular economy

In its manifesto, the Labour party said it is committed to reducing waste by moving to a circular economy.

Reacting to the commitment, Libby Peake, head of resources at Green Alliance said: “The Labour Party is right to commit to a more circular economy – the public wants it and it is desperately needed to meet our legally-binding climate and nature commitments.

“But the reality today is that waste is wired into every part of the economy: and so the UK’s material footprint is more than double what the science says is sustainable, and getting worse. A target to more than halve the UK’s material footprint is needed to focus minds.”

Targeting zero waste?

Steve Reed

The Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reed has previously said a Labour government would target a zero-waste economy by 2050. However, this target was not included in the manifesto.

Speaking at the Restitch conference in Coventry, held by the thinktank Create Streets, Read indicated zero-waste economy would be part of Labour’s agenda for “green renewal”.

In 2011, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government published plans for a zero-waste economy; however, Reed said that since then little progress has been made.

According to the Guardian, Reed said he had seen analysis that shows transitioning to a zero waste economy adds a “£70 billion boost to the economy”.

Reed continued: “A series of other countries – the Netherlands, Belgium – smaller than us but similar in many respects, have got objectives to become zero-waste economies by 2050 and that has huge economic benefits.

“We would lower our emissions, improve security in the supply chain, and lower input costs for the UK economy which in turn improves productivity.”

£1 billion investment for carbon capture

Carbon captureLabour’s manifesto also expanded on its pledge to create a National Wealth Fund capitalised with £7.3 billion over the course of the next Parliament, which they claimed would be funded by a time-limited windfall tax on oil and gas companies and borrowing.

The manifesto committed Labour to investing £1 billion from the fund to “accelerate the deployment” of carbon capture.

The fund would have a target of attracting three pounds of private investment for every one pound of public investment.

Conservatives promise ban on waste incineration permits

Energy from waste

The stand-out policy announcement on the sector came from the Conservatives with their pledge to ban and revoke permits for waste incinerators.

The manifesto, which the Prime Minister launched at Silverstone Race Track, said they will revoke recent permit approvals for waste incinerators and those where substantial construction has not taken place.

The Conservatives said the policy “recognises the impact on local communities and that increased recycling rates will reduce the need for incineration capacity in the longer term”.

Throughout the election campaign so far, Rishi Sunak has pledged he will take a “pragmatic” approach to net zero that he argues would reduce the financial burden on citizens.

Former CIWM President Dr Adam Read, Chief Sustainability & External Affairs Officer at SUEZ UK, said the ban was a “surprising and somewhat premature move from the Conservatives. 

“Energy from Waste (EfW) has a role to play in modern sustainable resource management and is constantly evolving as we continue to upgrade and revolutionise the technologies and move towards a more circular economy,” Read said. 

“The reality is that until all packaging is designed to be recycled and is segregated properly by households and businesses, EfW is a necessary option to dispose of materials that are currently not recycled. 

“EfW still has a role to play as a transition technology while the UK completes its move away from landfill to more sustainable systems. The Conservatives’ pledge risks undermining the important progress made to date and leaving us with an inefficient waste system.”

Reacting to the pledge, CIWM’s Director of Innovation and Technical Services, Lee Marshall, said: “There needs to be a more comprehensive assessment of the current resources and waste infrastructure before any sort of ban on new facilities of any kind is brought in.

“The policy levers of Simpler Recycling, Extended Producer Responsibility and the Emissions Trading Scheme are complex, and we don’t want to find ourselves in a position where we have insufficient facilities.”

Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), said the proposed “heavy-handed” ban would increase the political risk around all circular economy infrastructure investment.

Hayler argued the next government should focus on building new recycling infrastructure to meet the nation’s existing circular economy ambitions.

Waste incineration permit controversy 

Steve Barclay

Earlier this year, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) announced it had temporarily paused issuing environmental permits for new waste incineration facilities in England.

At the time, Defra said its decision was part of a broader evaluation of the role of waste incineration in managing residual wastes in England.

A month before the announcement, the BBC reported that civil service officials raised concerns about Environment Secretary Steve Barclay’s role in approving an EfW facility in his constituency.

This led to the Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reed questioning if Barclay, a vocal critic of the planned incinerator, had breached the ministerial code over his role in the decision.

After the Prime Minister called the General Election and Parliament was dissolved, Barclay said he was “appalled” by the Environment Agency’s decision to grant a permit for the waste incinerator in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

What else is in the Conservative manifesto?


fly-tippingSince Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister he has announced a number of measures to strengthen the deterrent against fly-tipping.

As part of the UK government’s plan to tackle “anti-social behaviour”, Rishi Sunak increased the upper limit on fines for fly-tipping from £400 to £1,000, an announcement CIWM welcomed at the time.

The Recycling Minister Robbie Moore has also called on local authorities to hand out more fixed penalty notices (FPNs) to fly-tippers in parliament.

Under Sunak, the government also began publishing league tables which ranked local authorities based on their fly-tipping performance.

Defra has also made more money available to local authorities to tackle fly-tipping by awarding 26 councils with a £50,000 grant.

Deposit Return Scheme

deposit return scheme DRSThe Conservatives’s manifesto said they would continue to develop a “UK-wide” Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) while working to minimise the impact on businesses and consumers.

Earlier this year, the Environment Secretary told MPs the 2025 deposit return scheme (DRS) start date was “unrealistic” and 2027 was now “more likely”.

Steve Barclay also said the UK government would decline a request from the Welsh government for full exclusion from the Internal Market Act, which would allow Wales to collect glass as part of its DRS.

According to polling conducted for Reloop, around 70% of people in Britain support the introduction of a DRS.

Once the scheme was explained to respondents, Reloop said 77% of Conservative voters supported a DRS, 69% of Labour voters, and 71% of Liberal Democrat voters.

Liberal Democrats pledge to eliminate single-use plastics in 3 years

plastic bottles

The Liberal Democrats unveiled several stand-out policies that would impact the sector in its manifesto.

Probably the most eye-catching was the party’s aim for the “complete elimination” of non-recyclable single-use plastics within three years and to replace them with affordable alternatives.

The manifesto said they would set an ambition to end plastic waste exports by 2030 and accelerate the transition to a more circular economy.

The Lib Dems also pledged to create a nature-positive economy, tackle plastic pollution and waste, and get Britain recycling by introducing a DRS for food and drink bottles and containers.

The Party said it would work with the devolved administrations to ensure consistency across the UK while “learning the lessons from the difficulties” with the Scottish scheme.

The Lib Dems also said it would work to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 through the UN High Seas Treaty and by finalising a Global Plastics Treaty to cut plastic pollution worldwide.

Green Party go big on repair and reuse

white goods

The Green Party has promised to advocate for a circular economy that reduces waste of resources but unlike the other parties’ manifestos, they have included specific policy details about how they would transition the UK from a linear to a circular economic model.

The Greens said they would require manufacturers to offer ten-year warranties on white goods and introduce a “comprehensive right to repair” to eliminate built-in obsolescence.

Further legislation would also require manufacturers to produce only the “most energy- efficient” white goods, TVs, lighting, and electric cookers.

The Greens also said they would encourage a shift into consumer behaviour from an ownership to a usership model, for example through neighbourhood libraries for tools and equipment, which is the model used by Library of Things.

All materials from demolished buildings would need to be considered for reuse, the manifesto pledged.

The Greens also specified that they would increase the rates for disposal of builders’ waste to ensure that there is an “economic driver”.

Finally, the manifesto committed to legislating to ensure wood and crop waste is recycled into construction materials, paper and fabrics. The Greens also promised policies that ensure “good quality” surplus food isn’t wasted.

However, there was no further detail for how they would achieve these final two pledges.

Commitment to investment research

The Manifesto promised that Green MPs would seek to increase investment into research and development by over £30 billion across the course of the next parliament.

The additional spending would be concentrated on research into sectors that are focused on tackling climate change, including reuse, repair, recycling, and designing out waste.

Reform promise to scrap net zero

Net zero forms a big part of the Reform Manifesto; however, unlike the other parties, Reform have built their pledges around scrapping environmental policies.

Reform pledged to scrap net zero and related tax subsidies, which they claimed would save the public sector £30 billion annually for the next 25 years.

Reform’s manifesto claimed that net zero is increasing energy bills, damaging British industries like steel, and making the country less secure.

The manifesto claimed the UK can instead protect its environment by planting more trees, increasing recycling, and using less single-use plastics instead.

The Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) 2021 Fiscal Risks Report found that unmitigated climate change would have “catastrophic economic and fiscal consequences” for the UK.

The OBR is a non-departmental public body, which is funded by the UK treasury. It was established by the UK government under then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in 2010 to provide independent economic forecasts and independent analysis of the public finances.

According to the OBR’s report, the fiscal costs of achieving net zero could add 21% of GDP to public debt by 2050 in its “early action scenario”, which it said are “not exceptional” relative to the costs of global shocks like the pandemic and the financial crisis.

The OBR also specified that there are a range of scenarios for reaching net zero and some could improve public finances if the government accommodated net zero investment within its existing spending plans and replaced declining fuel and other hydrocarbon revenues.

The report also found that acting early could halve the net fiscal cost of achieving net zero by 2050.

Scepticism about climate change

Climate changeThe previous leader of Reform UK Richard Tice, who is now chairman after ceding the leadership to Nigel Farage, has questioned whether humans can do anything to impact the Earth’s climate.

In an interview with BBC Breakfast last year, Tice said that net zero will make “zero difference” to climate change and that the “idea that you can stop the power of the sun or volcanoes is simply ludicrous”.

The Reform website also claims that climate change would always occur even without man-made CO2 emissions and advocates that society should adapt to warming rather than “pretend” it is possible to stop climate change.

CIWM advocates for the policies that will deliver meaningful change and matter to you, learn more about the benefits of CIWM membership today.

Send this to a friend