Government criticised for refusing to act on circular economy

31st October 2014

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Peter Jones

The government has rejected calls by a cross-party group of MPs to reduce waste and increase resource productivity.

The parliamentary environmental audit committee outlined its recommendations on how Britain could grow a circular economy in July.

These included lower VAT on recycled products, a phased-in requirement for new products to be recyclable and greater standardisation of waste collection services, including a ban on food waste being sent to landfill.

In its response to the committee's report, published at the weekend, the government agrees that it has a role to play in developing a circular economy. However, it has no plans to introduce greater standardisation in collection systems or compel councils to adopt household food waste collections, it said.

It also has no plans to require the recyclability of all products coming onto the market. "Any proposed regulation should be proportionate and provide businesses with the flexibility to develop in a global market," the response stated.

Differential VAT rates are too difficult to negotiate at EU level, the government argued. However, the chair of the committee, Joan Walley MP, pointed out that member states are allowed to implement a reduced rate of VAT for certain goods and services, and that the UK has previously done this, for example, on new build construction materials.

Walley said that the government has its "head in the sand" over the issue. "The disposable society simply isn't sustainable in the 21st century. Innovative companies in the UK, like B&Q and M&S, recognise this and are already demonstrating that using resources less wastefully is the future of business."

She added: "Breaking the link between primary resource use and economic growth is essential if we want to create a truly sustainable economic system that can cope with rising global demand and population growth. It is possible, and many businesses are showing real leadership in becoming more resource efficient. But we need the government to create a framework where companies and consumers are rewarded for doing the right thing."

In July, the European commission proposed new waste targets, which would require member states to recycle 70% of municipal waste and 80% of packaging waste by 2030. It also suggested a zero-waste-to-landfill policy for plastics, paper, metals, glass and bio-waste by 2025, as well as new initiatives around ecodesign.

Ireland requires households to separate out food waste, while Scotland is introducing a landfill ban on food waste, the committee pointed out.

Susanne Baker, senior climate and environment policy adviser at manufacturers' organisation, the EEF, said: "It has become increasingly clear that the current administration is simply paying lip service when it says that it supports the concept of a circular economy.

"The case for greater levels of circular resource use are clear. But without a supportive legislative and fiscal framework, the expansion of circular resource use will continue on the current evolutionary, as opposed to revolutionary, path. We can only hope that when drafting their manifestos, we see political parties demonstrating much more ambition and leadership in this space."

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