Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. Waste is not one of the more captivating environmental issues which attract high-profile international conferences and a running media commentary. Instead, it is characterised by a lack of public profile and knowledge: many businesses and most householders have an 'out of sight, out of mind' approach to waste disposal with few considering what happens after the 'black sack' or wheelie-bin is collected. Increasingly, though, as a society we are all being forced to look at waste issues rather more closely and make tough decisions about precisely what we should be doing with our waste. This Committee has a long history of consideration of this issue and has produced a number of Reports on waste issues during the last ten years.

2. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of conducting inquiries into waste matters is that a sense of déjà vu pervades some of the evidence we receive and, ultimately, the Report we produce. For example, in 1998, we stressed that:

 "At present 20 per cent of the world's population uses 80 per cent of the world's resources: the other 80 per cent - the population of the developing world - uses only 20 per cent of these resources. Such inequality cannot continue."[3]

Although the case for waste minimisation and more efficient resource use is now widely accepted, such inequality has continued more or less unchallenged since we wrote those words. Action to bring more efficient resource use and help minimise waste has been conspicuous by its absence.

3. We also expressed our:

"profound disappointment ... that waste management in this country is still characterised by inertia, careless administration and ad hoc, rather than science-based decisions. Lip-service alone, in far too many instances, has been paid to the principles of reducing waste and diverting it from disposal. Cental Government has lacked the commitment, and local government the resources, to put a sustainable waste management strategy into practice."[4]

Although some progress has been made since then, the thrust of our conclusions is little changed more than two years later.

4. As such, it is difficult fully to express our disappointment with the continuing inertia and low level of expectation which characterise waste management in this country. As a nation, we produce too much waste, we fail to re-use, recycle or compost enough of what we do produce and we now appear to be planning to shift a good portion of that waste from the least attractive option, landfill, to the second least attractive one, incineration. Yet some cities and countries around the world are being ambitious and are aiming to provide the much talked about 'step change' in waste management. For examples of the enthusiasm we are talking about, one can look to the 'Zero Waste by 2020' plan for Western Australia,[5] Canberra's success in increasing its recycling rate from near zero to 59% in just 8 years[6] and Flanders' shift from 18% to 59% recycling in seven years. These places started earlier than us and have aimed higher. Such ambition brings the rewards of jobs, a cleaner environment and, ultimately, a more sustainable waste management system. But instead of using these as examples of what can be achieved, many seem happier to carp and question the potential to replicate such vision or achievement here in England.

5. The majority of those involved with waste in this country appear to be guilty of thinking without imagination and planning without ambition, of finding problems instead of solutions and aiming for short-term goals without a vision of the system of resource use and waste management which we should be striving for. The failure to implement real and ambitious change in waste management is all the more disappointing since the Government has had almost two full years between our previous Report and the publication of the Waste Strategy 2000. It is obvious to us that the Strategy fails to reflect the thrust of that Report and that many of our recommendations have been disregarded.

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

Page xiv, Sustainable Waste Management, Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, HC484-I (1997-98) Back

Waste 2020 Draft Strategy. Towards zero waste by 2020 Western Australia, August 2000 Back

Q16 Back

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