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What will a post-Brexit waste management sector look like?

With Brexit negotiations under way and Leave campaigner Michael Gove in charge of Defra spoke to Recycling & Waste world about what’s in store for the waste management sector. 

Michael Gove’s return to the Cabinet in June was surprising, but his placement at Defra left many completely baffled. This was a man who reportedly tried to ban climate change from the geography curriculum when he was education secretary.

“He couldn’t help playing to the Tory climate-sceptic audience,”said the former secretary of state for climate change, Ed Davey. “He could also be a danger on transposing EU environmental regulations into British law. We know he has a natural inclination to reduce regulation.”

But the man who sat opposite Davey in the coalition government’s Cabinet meetings appears very different from the one who gave his first speech as environment secretary a couple of weeks ago. “I am an environmentalist”, he said. “The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the energy which powers enterprise, are all threatened if we do not practise proper stewardship of the planet.”

It was music to the ears of those gathered at the headquarters of the environmental group WWF-UK, but was he playing to an audience of green campaigners or is Gove seriously considering some radical new policies?

This was a wide-ranging, 5,000-word speech, and it will be no surprise to hear that a significant chunk of it was dedicated to farming and fisheries. Experts approached by RWW the week before had admitted that their impression was that waste policy came ‘a little bit down the pecking order’.

But resource use got a decent airing. Improved incentives for reducing waste and litter are on the way, as well as a review of the penalties available to deal with polluters. Many in the waste sector will have been pleased to hear talk, too, of changes to the way recycling is measured.

“We can incentivise recycling according to the environmental impact and value of the material, rather than a crude weight-based target that currently focuses recycling on things that happen to be heavy,” the environment secretary said.

Plastics will be a particular focus. Legislation to ban the use of microbeads will be introduced later this year, with Defra also set to ‘explore’ other ways to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up at sea. Marine litter has shot up the public agenda, so this could well have been another attempt to appease certain stakeholders. More telling than these warm words will be Gove’s actions in the months to come.

Read more about the elusive plan on the Recycling and Waste World website.

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