New waste minister confirmed as industry says sector must not be ‘siloed off’

DEFRA has confirmed that new ministerial appointee Jo Churchill will take on its waste and resources portfolio, overseeing a sector that an industry trade body says is at a “critical juncture”.

Jo Churchill. Image: UK Parliament Jo Churchill. Image: UK Parliament

Air quality and noise, environmental regulation, chemicals, and litter will also come under her remit. 

Churchill, an MP for Bury St Edmunds, joined DEFRA last week as part of the ministerial reshuffle, boosting DEFRA’s overall number of ministers and giving the ministerial line up a 50:50 gender split.  

Formerly a member of the Environmental Audit Committee in 2015-16, she has moved across from the Department for Health. 

READ MORE: Cabinet reshuffle: Who’s in and who’s out

Executive director of the Environmental Services Association, Jacob Hayler, told ENDS that he welcomed Churchill in her new role and was pleased to see ministerial resourcing closely dedicated to the sector, but warned “there is still work to do towards the successful implementation of the Resources and Waste Strategy, and to ensure that these once-in-a-generation reforms deliver their intended outcomes”.  

He continued: “Since the fortunes of the circular economy are so closely intertwined with wider environmental ambitions, including the carbon and industrial agendas, it is essential that our sector is not siloed off in this reshuffle and remains part of the bigger picture within government.”

In her new role Churchill will face issues such as tackling plateauing rates for recycling and environmental waste crime. 

According to DEFRA’s last annual report, it significantly missed its own targets in both areas, in a period described by the department as “challenging”, due to Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and “significant” ministerial changes.

A plastics tax is set to come into force in April 2022, and designed to accelerate the use of recycled content in plastic packaging, but with recent research showing that recycled paper and construction materials “contained greater numbers of chemicals than virgin products”, the path forward will not be plain sailing. 

READ MORE: Is recycling creating a toxic chemical problem?

Churchill’s ministerial portfolio is the first to be confirmed following last week’s reshuffle.

Minister Rebecca Pow, who has remained in post, is expected to retain the Environment Bill brief, and a DEFRA spokesperson said that confirmation on Victoria Prentis’ portfolio, following her promotion to junior minister, should come next week. 

Image: UK Parliament

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