Whodunit? The Resources & Waste Policy Riddle Continues…

UK resources and waste policy is seemingly evolving like a serialised “whodunit?”, says Gev Eduljee, a non-executive director at Resource Futures. In the wake of the Government’s 25-Year Plan unveiling yesterday (11 January), he analyses how it related to our sector, but still eagerly awaits forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy

UK resources and waste policy is seemingly evolving like a serialised “whodunit?” – an outline of the plot with a few tantalising glimpses along the way of what to expect (as trailed in the Industrial Strategy and Clean Growth Strategy) followed by the denouement in the final pages (the Resources and Waste Strategy) which, in the best traditions of a cliff-hanger, we await with anticipation. Where does Defra’s delayed 25-Year Environment Plan fit in, as it relates to our sector?

A “plan” is generally acknowledged to be a second-tier construct (what, when, who?) feeding off an overarching strategy (why? to what end? how to get there?). In that the Plan harks back to the well aired Industrial and Clean Growth strategies for context in relation to waste and resources; there are no new revelations to be had, other than an appreciation of how proper management of resources and waste links to environmental and human wellbeing (for example, cutting waste and improving resource efficiency reduces the burden to the environment).

But if one accepts that a strategy and a plan are sequential, then weaknesses or gaps in the strategy will also feed into weaknesses and gaps in the Plan, the shortcomings of which become apparent when compared with the relevant sections of the EU Sixth (2001-2010) and Seventh (2011-2020) Environment Action Programmes, which are far more comprehensive in addressing the various elements of the resource and supply chain, and far more focused and explicit in its actions.

Shooting In The Dark?

This is hardly surprising since the Resources and Waste Strategy that should have informed this aspect of the Plan is still in preparation and so the Plan is, to some extent, shooting in the dark, hence mainly dealing in generalities. The Plan is, therefore, more concerned with Goals, Targets and What we want to Achieve – arguably more strategic considerations than a plan of action, and addresses no more than a small corner of the overall landscape – in particular, food waste and plastics.

Not that we should turn our noses up at these and other aspirations in the Plan.  All indications of greater ambition should be welcomed and built on through constructive dialogue with our sector, and we should certainly applaud the reiteration of previously aired goals, such as zero avoidable waste by 2050, albeit goals that as yet have no legal or legislative underpinning. There is also welcome mention of due process – cost benefit analysis, prioritisation, etc.

One senses that despite the shift in thinking in the Industrial and Clean Growth Strategies in relation to resources as opposed to waste, resources and waste management in an economic/industrial context within the framework of natural capital is still work in progress, and that an economically and industrially informed resources and waste strategy has not found its “natural” home in natural capital – at least as yet. The Natural Capital Committee’s Advice to Government on the 25 Year Environment Plan (September 2017) overwhelmingly focuses on the management of the natural environment – woodlands, river catchments, biodiversity, marine environment, etc – with desultory reference to (industrial) resource efficiency and waste.

Interestingly, the Plan does not mention the GOS report From Waste to Resource Productivity. Furthermore, while the Plan purports to speak for the UK, Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy presumably focuses on England, since Scotland and Wales have already gone their own way and set out their respective stalls.

As things stand, the forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy is still our holy grail, the chalice on which our sector pins its hopes for a “world leading” (Michael Gove’s words) strategy dealing in short to medium term timescales as well as looking to 2043.  The danger is that with so many disparate initiatives on the go, not only is strategizing in danger of being conflated with planning, but we could end up with a mishmash of policy measures with no clear focus.

Coordination between Defra and BEIS will be vital if their respective strategies are to be stitched together into a coherent overarching framework for resources and waste.

Read more on the 25-Year Plan here

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