Today the Prime Minister announced a 25 Year Environmental Plan, which met with a muted response from industry and interest groups. Why? Because it lacked bite and detail.
The hype trailed in the press earlier this week had led me to hope for something of real substance but sadly it is another missed opportunity. In a climate of uncertainty, industry has been asked to wait since the middle of last year so the government could get the plan right, which now appears to be yet more time wasted when we know drastic action is needed.
The Government’s excellent Clean Growth Strategy, released at the tail-end of 2017, indicated that there would be greater policy output from Defra (Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs) this year. I immediately jumped to the assumption that after years of silence, they must finally have some meaningful policies to put in place.
Token schemes better than none
In the last few weeks, I have been dismissive of the potential tokenism of implementing a deposit return scheme for drinks containers or the so-called “latte levy”, but had they appeared in the plan, at least we could see some tangible action. The idea of extending the “uptake of the highly successful 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers”, which did appear in the plan, is not much more than a thinly veiled attempt to promote old news. Yes, the carrier bag charge has been successful, but we knew it would be because Wales had done it 4 years earlier. It’s sad to see the Government dine out on a policy from 2015. Well done. Genuinely. But can we move on now?
We need to see wholescale reform of the waste and recycling chain in a way that incentivises UK waste companies to come up with innovative solutions for the country’s waste. Anything short of this will not resolve the bigger picture. Innovate UK analysis shows just £54m has been invested in plastic innovation in the last 7 years. Never has the phrase “a drop in the ocean” been more appropriate. It’s encouraging to hear the Government agree that we need to accelerate the pace of research. We all know why it’s needed, let’s move on to how, what and when.
The last hope…?
Ellen MacArthur talked on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning about the need for global system change. While I couldn’t agree more, on a pragmatic level we could just start with getting our own house in order. It is also great to hear the minister, Michael Gove, talking later in the same programme about a four-point plan on plastics and PRN reform but when will it turn into policy?
The last hope for something concrete could be the Resources and Waste Strategy due in the first half of this year. As an eternal optimist, albeit one who has written pessimistically in this post, I still believe the Government is capable of leadership in this area. By the end of the summer we’ll know whether that optimism is justified.
Innovation and policy director
Robbie is innovation and policy director at Ecosurety. Having spent years building an intimate understanding of the industry’s policies and politics, he uses this knowledge to help shape new legislation and oversees Ecosurety’s growing portfolio of cross-industry innovation projects including Podback and the Flexible Plastic Fund. He has worked closely with Defra during the most recent packaging consultations, outlining the impacts and required transitional arrangements of the UK’s new EPR system and is a member of the government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP). He is also a spokesperson for the company and regularly uses his influence to communicate the importance of environmental responsibility to external stakeholders.
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