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Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) minister, Rory Stewart, is looking to pursue his vision to move England’s local authorities towards a set of more ‘consistent’ policies in waste and recycling collections.

Stewart spoke at a fringe session at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on the 4th of October, in his speech the minister expressed his desire to see councils move towards one of ‘five or six’ types of collection system over the course of the next 5 years.

He described the ‘madness’ of the current situation which, he said, sees collection arrangements largely set at a local level by district, borough or unitary councils, and has seen a diverse set of collection arrangements develop across the country.
However, the minister did not go as far as to say which collection systems he is likely to favour, adding that work would need to be done to assess the benefits of existing collection schemes.

The minister was speaking at a Fringe session in Manchester’s Town Hall on Sunday evening, sponsored by Unilever, titled ‘Putting nothing to waste: a cleaner greener economy’.

Addressing delegates, he said:

“We have about 360 different local authorities, doing different things with their waste. It is completely mad. It is mad in terms of us as householders, crossing those ‘Berlin Walls’ on London streets and trying to work out what is in our waste. It is mad from the point of view of the waste industry trying to work out how to get any economies of scale, its mad in terms of the councils themselves. It doesn’t save them any money having these different systems for waste.

“If we can have realistically, five or six different systems we end up in a position where it is better for the ratepayer, better for the councils and better for the environment.”

Defra has currently taken no firm action to assess the scope for aligning local authority collections, although a, ‘Harmonisation and Consistency Working Group’ has been set up by the Department and is engaging with WRAP and local authorities on the issue.

Mr Stewart did concede that it is unlikely that Defra would legislate to force councils into any one type of collection scheme or to alter the powers that councils have to set collection policy.

He also hinted that the Department would not be offering a pot of money to coerce councils into a change of collection regime, an approach tried unsuccessfully by former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in his bid to see councils return to weekly collections of residual waste.

Mr Stewart has instead pointed towards a voluntary approach with input from the private sector as his preferred method of delivery.


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