DEFRA slated for lack of commercial waste plans

A report from the House of Commons environment committee effectively calls for the government to rewrite its waste strategy. It expresses particular concern at the lack of policies on commercial waste.

The government’s waste policies are not robust enough to drive improvement in the management of commercial and industrial waste, according to the House of Commons environment committee. Municipal waste policy also needs sweeping changes.

The statements are made in the committee’s long-overdue report on the government’s 2007 waste strategy, issued in January.1

The committee finished taking evidence in 2008, but reopened the inquiry in July 2009 after waste was discovered being illegally exported to Brazil (ENDS Report 414, p 5)

The report criticises the strategy’s disproportionate focus on municipal waste. This makes up just 9% of English waste arisings, it says. Commercial and industrial waste makes up 24%. Construction, demolition and quarry waste comprises most of the rest.

"We consider the dearth of firm targets for the non-municipal sector a key omission from the strategy," the report says. DEFRA’s commercial waste strategy, issued last October (ENDS Report 417, p 40), is similarly lacking. "Vague ambitions and rhetoric should be replaced urgently with firm action plans."

Data need to be collected on commercial waste disposal routes and appropriate targets set for recycling, reuse and minimisation of different waste streams by the end of the 2010, it says.

The government should not rely on rising landfill tax to ensure those targets are met, it says. It does not suggest many other potential policies, but says that "retail outlets, restaurants and pubs should be required to publish information on what they are doing to… increase recycling". Retailers with an annual turnover exceeding £50m should also be made to publish waste prevention strategies, including targets by material type.

The MPs criticise DEFRA for slashing the budgets of its resource efficiency bodies (ENDS Report 398, p 4). Their ire focuses on budget cuts of 42% in 2008/09 and 17.5% in 2009/10 for the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP), which finds uses for commercial waste. The CBI told the MPs that NISP was value for money and their report argues that DEFRA should re-evaluate the cuts.

The committee also says policies on municipal waste need changing. The government’s current municipal waste recycling target - 50% by 2020 - should be brought forward to 2015, with a 60% target set for 2020 (see pp 28-31). Targets should also be set for mandatory food waste collection.

The report discusses the benefits of variable charging for household waste collections. It does not come out explicitly in favour, but says councils should tell householders how much collections cost per bin. This may help encourage recycling and waste prevention. DEFRA should also "produce a report explaining how a more rational regime for charging for domestic waste collection and disposal can be proceeded with", it says.

Some of the committee’s most important recommendations are hampered by being vague. For example, it says the landfill tax escalator should continue until 2020, but it does not say by how much it should rise per year. It also says energy-from-waste plants must be required to show how heat will be captured and used, but does not suggest what proportion.