Environment Minister Rory Stewart has signalled his desire to work with local councils to slash the number of different recycling systems in the UK from around 300 to just five or six, arguing a more co-ordinated approach to waste management would help cut costs and boost recycling rates.
Speaking at the Environment Industries Commission annual conference in London last week, Stewart said the area of waste policy he has been most focused on since joining the Defra team following May’s election was addressing “the craziness that we have over 300 different recycling systems in Britain”.
“Almost every council is running a different recycling system,” he added. “We really need to find a way of co-ordinating better.”
Stewart admitted many local councils remain resistant to central government efforts to standardise local waste and recycling policies, which currently result in massive variations in how local authorities collect recycling and which materials they will process.
“It is a difficult thing for government to do, because local councils quite understandably feel this is their prerogative,” he said. “In fact, for some councils it is a real source of pride. One of the only things they have their council logo on is their bins… But obviously it makes sense for the nation, it makes sense for rate payers, and it makes sense for national resources if we can get down from 300-odd systems to, let’s say five or six.”
Stewart stressed any reforms would be carried out on a voluntary basis in co-operation with councils. “I’ve got to convince councils of this,” he said. “But if we can do it we can save the councils money, we can save rate payers money, we drive up our recycling rates quite dramatically because there would be enormous economies of scale for the recycling industry in having a standardised system.”
Stewart also rejected accusations the government has failed to sufficiently prioritise action on the environment since its election victory and urged critics in the green NGO community to judge Ministers on their record over the next five years.
“The proof of the pudding will be in the eating,” he said, adding that water quality would be improved, forest cover would increase, and the UK would move from a situation where nearly 30 of our cities have more than 40 micrograms per cubic meter of nitrogen dioxide in the air to a scenario where the country boasts “the cleanest air we have ever had”.
In addition, Stewart challenged clean tech developers to come forward and work with Defra to remove some of the barriers to the wider deployment of environmental technologies.
“We are increasingly aware as a government how much we have to learn in the field of technology and data and how much this can help us – and how bad in many ways that governments are in responding to this,” he said. “What I would like to do is corral together a group of 10 to 12 technological ideas in the water, air, soil and nature [fields] which we could really challenge our chief scientist with and which we could challenge ourselves with.”
Source: Recycling BG

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