Landmark blueprint for resources and waste – A review of Defra’s latest strategy

18th December 2018

Has the government listened to our pleas to tackle waste and to stop using the planet’s resources irresponsibly? Or is this just greenwashing and empty promises to keep us quiet?

What has Gove promised in the Resources and Waste Strategy?

The main headline is that producers and manufacturers will pay and take more responsibility.
Personally I think this is a great start, putting the onus on the producer rather than the consumer.

However, the buzz word from previous DEFRA reports is still prevalent, “eliminate avoidable plastic waste”. What does “avoidable” mean, to be honest it screams greenwashing to me. Surely unavoidable could be used to describe any plastic waste that is too expensive to sort out. I hope I’m being too cynical.

Gove is quoted as saying he wants to “move away from being a ‘throw-away’ society”, he also mentioned the problem of food waste.

Subject to a spending review, there is plans for a “consistent approach to recycling across England”.

Subject to consultation there will be consistent collection of materials, to be paid for by the costs that producers will pay “if their products are harder to reuse, repair or recycle”.

Subject to consultation the tax on plastic packaging announced in the Autumn budget will be launched.

See if you can spot a theme above, looks like a lot of “subject to” plans. So, going to definitely happen? Below is a list of what the government says it will do: (I’ve highlighted certain words that demonstrate the potential arrival for these plans.)

“ensure producers pay the full net costs of disposal or recycling of packaging they place on the market by extending producer responsibility – up from just 10% now”
“review our producer responsibility schemes for items that can be harder or costly to recycle”
“introduce a consistent set of recyclable materials collected from all households and businesses, and consistent labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle”
“ensure weekly collections of food waste, which is often smelly and unpleasant, for every household – restoring weekly collections in some local authorities. This will be subject to consultation”
introduce a deposit return scheme, subject to consultation
explore mandatory guarantees and extended warranties on products
introduce annual reporting of food surplus and waste by food businesses.
clamp-down on illegal movements of waste at home and abroad by introducing compulsory electronic tracking of waste

Apparently the Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Veolia said “As a business we are ready to invest, to take advantage of new technology, build more infrastructure and work with brand owners and local authorities to harness resources on an industrial scale.”

So, progress then. 12 years until it’s too late to tackle climate breakdown, but at least our Government is going to explore some new recycling schemes as well as reviewing and consulting on some plans they’ve told us they are going to do.

I can’t wait to see the new schemes, to recycle goods that are normally expensive or harder to recycle; cars, electrical goods, and batteries. Perhaps they will follow TerraCycle’s example, who have schemes for all sorts of items that are hard to recycle, including batteries. They remove the chemicals and salvage metal and plastic to recycle.

Check them out:
https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/zero_waste_boxes/alkaline-batteries

They’ve also been in the media lately due to their partnership with Walkers to launch a free campaign to recycle all brands of crisps packets. Which are not recyclable due to the foil lining.

All is not lost, the government threw some money at the problem too:
£8 million of funding for eight new research projects that will explore new and different ways of making, using and recycling plastics.
£20 million to tackle plastics and boost recycling: £10 million more for plastics research and development and £10 million to pioneer innovative approaches to boosting recycling and reducing litter, such as smart bins.

Apparently “packaging reform is government’s immediate priority”. The ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ (EPR) seems to be the only concrete plan from this strategy. I believe this to be a positive step but not enough by half. Honestly, I wish the government would hurry up and put everything they plan to do into action. Deposit schemes will work now, food waste collection will work now, and consumers will adjust to not being able to buy plastic bags, or food in plastic packaging now. Society managed to buy, use and eat food before plastic so we must act NOW.

At the bottom of the press release it says:
“The ‘circular economy’ is linked to the concept of the ‘circle of life’ – nature’s way of returning life back to the earth so that when something dies, it gives new life to another. In terms of materials and resources, the circular economy relates to the re-use, re-fashioning, or remanufacturing of goods, thus extending their lifespan.”

I asked Caroline Lucas about six months ago if the rising popularity in the circular economy was an influence of the 25 year Environment Plan. She didn’t think it was. Almost everyone I spoke to said it was David Attenborough and Blue Planet 2. Environmental organisations have done well off the BBC documentary, more people understand the problem and are willing to change some habits, such as to carry a reusable water bottle. However, I am sceptical, I’m not seeing enough action and I worry about greenwashing.

To me, the circular economy isn’t just about extending the lifespan of goods. It is about respecting the planet’s resources. They are finite, and we are using them as though they were infinite. Fossil fuels will run out, oil reserves will not last forever. We already know we need to stop using fossil fuels to mitigate and prevent climate breakdown, but we continue to ‘throw away’ items that are produced from them. Everytime you buy a single use product, be it a coffee cup, a drinks bottle or a takeaway sandwich wrapped in complicated packaging, you are using up the planet’s FINITE resources. You are contributing to climate breakdown and reducing the lifespan of future generations.

Note. The majority of information was taken from DEFRA press release “Gove launches landmark blueprint for resources and waste”.

** My next post will be less sceptical but more practical and hopefully more cheerful. I will show how I’ve been trying to live more sustainably, mitigate my waste and encourage others.***

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