Frustrations & Uncertainly

Robbie Staniforth, head of policy at Ecosurety vents his frustrations over uncertainty and slow-moving policy for UK plc, saying the biggest and most influential governmental policy decision in recent times was not from the UK itself, but China.

You won’t be surprised to read that UK plc continues to face uncertain times. Leaving the EU conjures up a multitude of risks and opportunities for the business community, whether it happens in an orderly fashion or not. However, the uncertain times I refer to result from the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, released just before Christmas.

At a recent webinar to explain the key information contained within the paper, the feedback from attendees, which ranged from packaging manufacturers to waste management companies, was that further clarity from the government is required. While there was general positivity about the direction of travel, and gratitude that it had finally been published, even more questions seem to have resulted.

In fact, over 60% of attendees to the webinar said the strategy was “positive but lacking in critical detail”. How will a deposit return scheme and extended producer responsibility for packaging work in harmony? How will fees for packaging be modulated? What new extended producer responsibility laws will be introduced? Tyres? Mattresses? Fishing nets?!

When I have spoken with large brands and retailers in the last few weeks, the sentiment is that they still cannot make big investment decisions based on policies that have merely been sign-posted. It may well reflect the different culture that now exists between business and government.

“The slow movement in policy decision making is now beginning to show in parliament in the form of an Early Day Motion supported by 35 MPs… Whilst well-intentioned, the suggestion of using such a blunt instrument as a ban shows just how disempowered and frustrated politicians and by extension, the public, are getting with this issue.”

Business appears to need certainty like never before, while the government appear to want to leave all options open until the very last minute. Resource industry insiders hoped that by the end of January some questions could begin to be answered as several public consultations would have been released, further indicating the options the government are exploring. Alas, as I write this, none have been released.

And so, it continues that the biggest and most influential governmental policy decision in recent times was not from the UK itself, but China. The need to clean up material to a higher specification has led to massive improvements in how the waste industry continues its journey towards becoming a resource sector.

For example, new processes are starting up to grade and separate WEEE plastics domestically because of the higher specification required by foreign markets. Another is the prevalence of paper bale tracking using serial codes in the baler twine to prove a quality standard. These examples demonstrate that the UK is certainly capable of taking matters into its own hands, if given the correct signal.

The slow movement in policy decision making is now beginning to show in parliament in the form of an Early Day Motion supported by 35 MPs. This cross-party coalition have recently waded into the debate by calling for a blanket ban on exporting plastic to developing countries. Whilst well-intentioned, the suggestion of using such a blunt instrument as a ban shows just how disempowered and frustrated politicians and by extension, the public, are getting with this issue.

As I have long advocated redressing the inherent imbalance between domestically reprocessing and exporting plastics, targeting the correct policy measures is something I have given considerable thought. Simply banning exports would not be fair on those who have already invested in ensuring they have a bona fide resource commodity to trade.

However, in this particular area a quality assurance standard is something I strongly advocate. As I have previously noted it may be helpful for it to start as a nimble, voluntary initiative, but in order to create a level playing field legislation will be required sooner rather than later.

I’ve been incredulously asked many times how any policy decisions could possibly be made between now and 11pm on March 29th. The response I give is stolen from my pension advisor, “the sooner you start, the better it’s likely to be”.

www.ecosurety.com

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