Making The Commitment

ChrisIn the run-up to England publishing its first Waste Prevention Programme, CIWM’s deputy chief executive, Chris Murphy, picks apart the call for evidence.
Published in the CIWM Journal May 2013


The Government will publish the first Waste Prevention Programme for England by December of this year, says the call for evidence released by Defra in late March, which closed at the end of last month. The Programme is a priority for Defra for two good reasons; it wants to do it and it needs to do it. It wants to do it because it is aimed at supporting growth, helping householders, councils and businesses to save money. It has to do it because there was a commitment in the Government Review of Waste Policy in England 2011 and it will fulfil a requirement of the revised Waste Framework Directive.

Chris Murphy – “There is some good stuff in the paper… but disappointingly it provides no indication of government thinking on the future of the Prevention Programme or its delivery”

For those new to the industry or indeed those new to waste prevention it is a very useful standalone document. There is a huge amount of valuable information including definitions (of waste prevention and the various elements of the waste hierarchy) and statistics on waste arisings, composition, potential financial savings, resource efficiencies and avoided greenhouse gas emissions.

As this is a call for evidence it is perhaps hardly surprising that nearly all of the 35 questions are looking for case studies, data, examples or direct evidence to support the opinion of the reader or comments posed in the document itself.

Seven Priorities

Defra has identified seven priority areas for action including food waste, textiles, construction and demolition wastes, paper and card, chemical and healthcare, furniture and bulky items and WEEE. These waste streams were identified as priorities following discussions with stakeholders, reviewing existing data and according to tonnage, carbon impact and hazardousness criteria.

“There are evident difficulties in measuring waste prevention”, says the document, displaying a fine sense of understatement. The Commission suggest some metrics, which could be used by member states to assess the current status of waste prevention and to evaluate future performance of the Waste Prevention Programme but for the majority of those proposed there is no regular system for collecting data and information. As a consequence, including assessment and evaluation of future performance against targets in the Programme will be at best difficult and at worst impossible.

The body of the document follows a similar pattern for sections on business, consumers and communities, Government and the public sector. The pattern is to consider waste arisings for each of the sectors, waste prevention and re-use activities and benefits, barriers and behavioural challenges, and finally a review of what has been achieved. Through each of the sections the questions seek to reaffirm statements through examples and case studies as well as looking for evidence to support the opinions of the reader.

There is some good stuff in the paper, particularly the presentation of the statistical data on waste generation and the Sankey diagram (pictured), but disappointingly it provides no indication of government thinking on the future of the Prevention Programme or its delivery. I’m sure it will say that as it is a call for evidence it is approaching the development of the Programme with an open mind and wants to hear from all stakeholders before the final document is produced before the end of the year. On the other hand there is no way of knowing from this paper which direction the Programme will take or indeed where government policy on waste prevention will go.

This time last year we commissioned some research to understand how our members saw the future of waste and resource management. When asked to rank eleven factors in order of importance in terms of the successful delivery of waste and resource management systems and solutions over the next five years the highest ranking was “waste prevention and re-use strategies”. I hope that this call for evidence and the resulting waste prevention programme can meet that expectation.

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