DEFRA HAS announced that it will be “stepping back” from its policy work across the waste portfolio.
In an open letter to the sector, the new waste minister, Dan Rogerson, wrote: “From April 2014 we will be stepping back in areas where businesses are better placed to act and there is no clear market failure. DEFRA will therefore not have the capacity to take forward new policy work in areas such as commercial and industrial waste and construction and demolition waste, as well as proactive energy from waste policy development.”
Current programmes of work on anaerobic digestion and food waste are also nearing completion, he suggested, so “the responsibility for taking work forward will largely rest with the industries concerned”. It isn’t without irony that this letter is not only his first contact with the waste and resources sector, but it also came in a period when food waste has hit the headlines. It seems short-sighted for the government to take a back seat in light of new figures showing that the grocery chain, hospitality and foodservice and households are responsible for 4.3m, 0.9m and 4.2m tonnes of food waste respectively.
The issue has of late grabbed the attention of consumers and businesses but not Rogerson or DEFRA, it seems. With an election less than two years away, the priorities will be focused on vote-winners. Curbing the staggering levels of food waste in the UK could surely be one of them (apart from among those who read the Daily Mail). More worrying still is that Rogerson’s department will be taking forward a “limited programme of work on waste prevention”. This is where the greatest benefits – commercially and environmentally – can be achieved. Recycling, after all, is third in the waste hierarchy to reduction and reuse. Unfortunately it seems that DEFRA is applying this to its own waste policy.