A panel of six politicians and industry experts debated issues around waste and resource management ‘Beyond 2015’, including discussions about behaviour change among the public and the use of pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) schemes as a means of reaching the EU’s 50% by 2020 recycling target.
Environmentalist Tony Juniper chaired the session, which saw contributions from CIWM chief executive Steve Lee, MPs Laura Sandys, Joan Walley and Roger Williams, Green Party councillor Jonathan Essex, and David Baldock, executive director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy.
Councillor Essex, who represents the Green Party in Redhill, argued money from landfill tax could be pumped into reuse and recycling projects but said more focus needed to be placed up the supply chain to tackle resource issues.
He said: “We live as if we have thee planets but we have only one. That is not just a waste problem, but a resource problem. We can’t tackle the challenge of resource use on our own, we need to think about where waste is coming from.
“We also need to make sure incentives sit with the decision makers. Councils shouldn’t opt to send waste to incinerators where gate fees are slightly lower than landfill.
“A zero waste economy without incineration is a possibility, but we need to scale up the amount of waste reduction and recycling initiatives.”
The panel was grilled by delegates on a number of issues around resource management, central to which was encouraging public participation in recycling. Tim Burns from waste charity Keep Britain Tidy questioned whether council tax rebates for good performing households could work in the UK.
In response, Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnorshire Roger Williams said he was more in favour of incentives for householders who recycle, rather than punishing those who fail to do so.
Williams’ Labour counterpart, Joan Walley, who is also chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, added incentives should form a part of a wider suite of policies to help influence public behaviour.
“My own take is that behaviour change is what we have got to deal with, there is no one policy on its own that can make a real difference,” she said.
“For that to happen you need an informed public debate. It is currently about people protesting about something rather than looking for a solution.
“We have got major challenges because we have parts of the country where we have got good recycling rates and others where it is quite shocking. It is all about transparency and explaining the bigger picture, we need to look at best practice to show how things can make a difference.”
Meanwhile, David Baldock, whose organisation carries out research on policies affecting the Environment across the continent warned that PAYT have been seen to work effectively within some areas in Europe, but communications with residents need to be central to any successful scheme.
“This [PAYT] has worked well in some other European countries, but you can’t transfer everything from one country to another,” he said. “One thing that strikes me in London is that if people don’t understand what is happening then their backs are up before you have even started. Having a relationship around how we manage resources is important.”
The view was echoed by Steve Lee, who argued that a ‘carrot and stick’ approach is appropriate – where the message has already been passed out effectively.
“If you have a good collection service and good communications initiatives then rewards for those who are performing well and a push for the others is important. CIWM was disappointed the pilots of several years ago have not been taken forward.”
Delegates also heard from the Laura Sandys, the MP for South Thanet, who led the development of a raft of policy proposals by a group of modernising Conservative MPs – the 2020 Conservatives group – which argued in favour of a “resource aware, efficiency focused and productivity driven” economy.
Ms Sandys said the policies, published under the header Sweating Our Assets sought to put re-use at the forefront of efforts on resource management, and she reiterated the group’s call for the waste brief to be moved from Defra to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.