Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report



210. Given that less than 30% of the public have any understanding of what happens to their waste, it is self-evident that they need to be better informed about waste.[325] Further, given the expansion of waste facilities and the need for public assistance with sorting their waste, the public need to be engaged as well as informed.

211. In our 1998 Report, we concluded that "there must be far greater education of the public as to the importance of waste avoidance and the hierarchy."[326] Many witnesses offered support for the existing information programmes such as the National Waste Awareness Initiative but also suggested that much more will be needed to bring about the necessary change of behaviour.[327] For example, the National Curriculum could include waste education so as to ensure that the next generation are aware of the importance of this matter. Public education will also need to explain the options for change and make clear that this involves costs and requires commitment and hard choices from the public. As United Waste Services noted, it is important that the public "understand and accept their own roles and responsibilities in delivering the strategy."[328]

212. At present, much of the public involvement comprises opposition to the siting of waste management facilities which, although understandable, does not directly help to bring improvement in waste management. The key is to harness that energy and use it to increase the amount of recycling undertaken, to encourage householders to minimise the amount of waste produced. More critically, householders will have to separate their waste into the different recyclable components if we are to achieve our recycling targets. Research seems to show that householders are more likely to co-operate when they believe that Government and business are playing their part in bringing about improvement.[329]

213. In recommending that the public be involved, we are aware that this takes time and energy and does not, in itself, guarantee a successful local or national waste strategy. But, without public education, consultation and engagement, the chances of us ever developing a more sustainable waste management system are slim indeed. At present the public are ill-informed and misled about what happens to their waste. If we are to be successful in moving waste from the bottom to the top of the hierarchy, a major public programme is required to educate, persuade and involve the public in waste management issues. If such a campaign is to be successful, the public must be convinced that Government and business are also working to change things.

Our Vision

214. We have been extremely disappointed with the lack of ambition and vigour shown by the main players in waste. The Government's Waste Strategy 2000 fails to provide vision or strategy in a sector which is badly lacking both.

215. The Waste Strategy should spell out what we want done with our waste in ten, twenty and thirty years time. Efficient resource use and waste minimisation must take priority and should run through all aspects of policy, from local waste strategies to national fiscal policy. The ridiculous state of planning for a 3% year-on-year increase in household waste whilst weakly advocating waste minimisation must be addressed. The concept of 'zero waste' is one which is gaining recognition in some parts of the world but seems to have left UK policy makers untouched. Although we are doubtful that 'zero waste' can ever be achieved, the very fact of aiming for no waste is precisely what should be driving waste strategy.

216. Under the current strategy, we risk making only moderate progress towards increasing recycling and composting whilst tying ourselves into an incineration-dominated future. To ensure that this does not happen, we must set more ambitious long-term targets and provide signals of what waste management should look like. We need stronger leadership from Government on waste. Central Government, local Government and business must examine their attitudes and policies on waste. It is not good enough to shuffle along in a laggardly fashion behind European Union Directives. There are sufficient examples from here and abroad which show what can be done and how to do it. Nothing will change until everyone in waste starts to believe that things can be changed. We, and many others, believe they can. It is time for the rest to join us.

Q1087 Back

326   Page xi, Sustainable Waste Management, Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, HC 484-I (1997-98), paragraph 184 Back

327   See, for example, Ev p5, p10, p44, p185 (HC 903-II) Back

328   Ev p53 (HC 903-II) Back

329   Ev p6 (HC 903-II) Back

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