Dan Norris MP shares the government’s vision for a zero waste nation

Filed in Blog, Guest Posts by on March 11, 2010 14 Comments
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Dan Norris, MP shares the Government's vision for a zero waste nation

Dan Norris, MP shares the Government's vision for a zero waste nation

Our guest post this week comes from Dan Norris, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Environment at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and MP for the West Country seat of Wansdyke.

He is a former teacher and child protection officer, having trained with the NSPCC. Although his all-year-round work for the people he represents in his West Country constituency dominates his time, Dan’s interests include walking in the beautiful North East Somerset countryside, photography, football (a Bristol City supporter) and music.

Today he shares the government’s vision for a zero waste nation and challenges us to reduce the amount of waste we produce, even more!

Resources, not waste

We need to rethink how we view and treat waste in the UK.  When we send valuable items like aluminium and food waste to landfill we are missing a major opportunity to turn that waste into money whilst helping to save the planet.  By using resources more efficiently business can improve their bottom line as well as delivering benefits for the environment. We must now work together to build a zero waste nation – where we reduce the resources we use, reuse and recycle all that we can and only landfill things that have absolutely no other use.

Myzerowaste.com shows us how we can all help make this vision a reality through inspiring and educating householders to reduce their landfill waste. That’s why I’m delighted to have the opportunity to share with you the government’s vision for a zero waste nation and challenge you to reduce the amount of waste you produce even more.

Finite resources

We know that our planet doesn’t have an unlimited supply of natural resources but despite this we have been guilty of living as if it does.  The world’s forests have shrunk by nearly half and the pollution we’ve caused is resulting in severe damage to our planet.  Making any product uses up valuable resources and energy and when anything is thrown away it can contribute to the pollution of our environment.

A first step that we can all take is to remember that much of what we throw away still has a use and what is waste to one person can be of value to another.   The government is incentivising local councils to send less to landfill through the landfill tax which is paid by local councils for every tonne of waste they send to landfill.  The landfill tax is rising every year until 2013 and we hope that this will encourage councils to look seriously at how they can reduce how much waste they send to landfill.  In addition we will shortly be consulting on banning certain items, like aluminium, from landfill.

Zero waste standard

We have launched a new Zero Waste Standard which will be awarded to local authorities who are demonstrating innovation in their application of zero waste principles – treating all waste streams as one, going as far as possible in reducing waste and recycling what is left.  We also launched seven new pilot zero waste places across England.  These pilots are demonstrating how zero waste can work in practice and can be replicated across the country.

Everyone can do their bit and we know that many people already are – household recycling in England has quadrupled over the last ten years.  But as well as recycling, we need to think about reducing waste and reusing things.  This means not buying what we won’t use, mending things that are broken, and avoiding unnecessary packaging.

Food waste

Reducing food waste is something that is easy for everyone to do.  As well as benefitting the environment by reducing methane emissions from decomposing food, it can also benefit your pocket.  Total annual British food waste is around 20 million tonnes and at the moment the average household in the UK throws away £470 worth of edible food every year, rising to £680 for families with children.

You can do your bit by using up your leftover food, composting your peelings, and making sure you only buy food which you will use.  There will always be some food waste, but this can be converted into energy through a process called anaerobic digestion.  Government and local councils are investing in the technology and infrastructure to make use of food waste in this way.

A zero waste nation

Certain types of waste can also be incinerated to produce energy – at the moment 11% of all renewable energy generated in England is produced this way.

For almost all types of waste the options above are better for the environment than sending it to landfill.

The government wants to make it easier for everyone to do the right thing with their waste no matter where they are – at home, at work or out and about.  Our ambition to be a zero waste nation means we will all have to do better than the best. I encourage everyone  to do all that they can to reduce, reuse and recycle their waste to help your local council send less waste to landfill on your behalf.

Useful links

Love Food, Hate Waste
WRAP
Zero waste places

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (14)

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  1. This is a great feature and living in one of those Zero Waste Places mentioned, it’s easy to see the extra efforts taken by councils to reduce the waste. At the moment I’m participating in the BREW funded Seven Suffolk Streets’ Waste Reduction Fortnight project. It’s an excellent campaign, which I have been supporting since its creation and have had the privilege of getting out onto the streets too on behalf of the project team. Whilst many householders were happy to take part in the area where I worked, there were equally those who could not see that it was their responsibility to reduce waste. They saw it as the supermarkets’ problem or the councils’ problem – not their own.

    I find that when Zero Waste is mentioned outside of arenas of support, many consumers seem to be threatened by the idea of having to make an extra effort as well as the fear of having more recycling bins and the popularity of badly researched headlines in the press exacerbate these fears.

    I completely support the Zero Waste Standard and this is great for raising councils’ standards and consumer awareness, but I also believe that a bigger noise needs to be created around companies too to illustrate that some manufacturers are making the efforts to reduce packaging, ditch the plastic and increase use of recycled materials.

    WRAP has done some amazing work pulling these strands together, working with the Courtauld Commitment for manufacturers and retailers, introducing mixed plastics recycling at the other end of the spectrum and engaging with some fabulous communication strategies aimed at the public. However you never see the whole picture presented to the public through the country’s media.

    I’d like to see the government pushing this message louder, that we are all in this together and reinforcing the idea that it’s not a case of them and us and that effort is being made right across the waste stream from manufacturing to recovery. I’d also like to see consumers being placed at the heart of the process nationally and being empowered to influence the chain, not just to di their bit on the domestic front.

    And finally I’d like to pose the question, whether the time has now come to make a shift from a voluntary Courtauld Commitment to an obligatory requirement to get the whole of the manufacturing industry on board.

    …and after that little soapbox moment, I think I’d better retire for a cup of tea 🙂

  2. Well said Mrs A.

    It is time now for the manufacturers of these non-recyclable and minimally recycled products/packaging to be held accountable at a higher level.

    We’ve already seen it on here that we find a suitable product in good recyclable packaging, then the manufacturer decides it needs to “bling” it up and we end up with non-recyclable packaging.

    I sometimes feel that progress has actually taken us backwards.

    When i was a little girl if you wanted baked beans you went to whichever shop and your choice was usually heinz or hp.
    Now we have 3 or 4 branded plus at least 3 different versions of own label add in also the low sugar/salt versions and it becomes silly.
    All these different versions have to be manufatured which costs on resources and creates waste.

    I’ll now join you for that cuppa!!

  3. John Costigane says:

    The Government’s Zero Waste promotion is very welcome, though not perfect since that definition includes the unmentioned EfW Incineration. In our opinion, Incineration is the antithesis of Zero Waste. It will be difficult to resolve this issue but new technology may be the best alternative.

    Aluminium is a case in point. A landfill ban is good but an EfW Incineration ban is more urgent since the burning of aluminium to the oxide (bauxite) makes metal recovery more energy intensive.

    All 3 parties have contributed positively towards Zero Waste, sometimes by another name (Waste Reduction). We look forward to backing the winning side(s) after the election and promoting their good Zero Waste practices to the max.

  4. Jane says:

    Quite a few Councils have now made recycling mandatory but I still don’t see enough mention of Waste Reduction.

    There are companies out there hoping that nobody will notice their packaging and hanging on for a greater acceptance of EFW. Question them!

    I noticed the other day that yet another authority has decided against EFW. We don’t want to be building these things and then finding we have to import waste from overseas to fuel them. We are a small island and just about everywhere is someone’s back yard.

    It is time that Reduce Reuse Recycle was promoted more for offices with the removal of personal mixed waste bins (yuck – all this eating at the desk of smelly and messy takeaways – the simple sandwich was so different) and the addition of recycling bins for the most easily separated recyclables – to bring offices in line with the home.

  5. Mr Green says:

    Thanks Dan Norris for a timely reminder of the Governments aspirations toward a zero waste nation. We agree with much of this vision and the ideals, but one area that we see lacking, at least locally is the implementation of zero waste strategies. In particular there is a great need for public education and popularisation toward zero waste. In Gloucestershire, we see the recent introduction of kerbside food waste collections, that you would imagine to be popular and successful. By removing food waste from the residuals, we can get away from the ‘festering mess’ that so many people have complained about in the past. However, each week we read in the local newspaper, a string of complaints from residents, who clearly don’t understand the benefits that are being offered.

    It is clear that waste is a very emotive subject, that covers a range of thoughts and beliefs. What is also clear is that many people don’t understand or appreciate the fact that it is now their responsibility to be part of the solution and no longer pass the buck to the system to take care of the waste issue.

    That indicates that one of the most crucial steps required is a greater public awareness of the problem and the individual’s part in prevention and solutions. Before we throw huge amounts of money at burying or burning our waste, we must make a greater attempt to reduce the problem at source and that begins with education and popularisation of the waste issue.

    1- The Courtauld Commitment as a voluntary agreement aimed at improving resource efficiency and reducing the carbon and wider environmental impact of the grocery retail sector is too weak. To become more effective, we need to make this much stronger and even mandatory

    2- We need better control and standardisation of plastic packaging in the retail sector. Instead of allowing market forces to dictate packaging design, it should be constrained within environmentally friendly and sustainable materials and methods.

    3- The public need to be incentivised, before being penalised in waste control. Unless we have the will, co-operation and enthusiasm of people, it will always be an expensive, up hill struggle to reach our goals.

    4- As part of a general awareness and popularisation of waste reduction, people need to know the why, how, where and when of dealing with post consumer waste. We also need to ignite a new pride in our beautiful country and see the need to protect it from the encroachment of litter, landfills and atmosphere contamination. Self generated enthusiasm is essential to drive this forward.

    5- The polluter needs to pay? Yes, but that is NOT the general public. Most of the waste we throw away as consumers is because manufacturers are passing on badly designed packaging to the consumer and giving them little option except to send to landfill. Unmarked plastics, or plastics without recycling/ reuse potential is a major culprit. Manufacturers mast be made accountable for better packaging design

    6- Business must be more aware that all waste is a product of bad design, that waste is always a cost that cannot be recovered. Someone always pays for the stuff that is wasted.

    7- Waste is actually a myth. In the same way that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place, so waste is really a resource, that we don’t appreciate or understand. Such thinking must become normalised and not marginalised.

  6. pennykenny says:

    I think it’s very good to hear from Mr Norris on this website. We need more open communication from politicians and local authorities and they in turn need to hear what we have to say as householders.

    I actually agree with much of what Mr Green said above. The consumer is getting too much stick about what we throw away, when really the manufacturers need to improve packaging. I would also add that local authorities need to increase recycling banks as this is bound to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

    Anyway, thank-you Mr Norris, you have my support, if you can deliver these proposals.

  7. J_longs22 says:

    Energy from waste is a big mistake in my opinion. Every independent report I’ve seen concludes that it is more expensive to produce energy this way and there is always about 25% residual amount of ash that has to go to landfill. In addition, this ash is often toxic, making matters even worse. Much better to stop the waste in the first place.

  8. MartinCosey-Danes says:

    To quote Dan Norris Everyone can do their bit and we know that many people already are – household recycling in England has quadrupled over the last ten years. But as well as recycling, we need to think about reducing waste and reusing things. This means not buying what we won’t use, mending things that are broken, and avoiding unnecessary packaging.

    It’s a good aspiration Mr Norris, but unfortunately, market forces and consumerism is not working with that ideal. It usually cheaper to but a new X that repair it and more superstores are stocking high value items in blisterpacks to prevent pilfering. That’s not a move forward for packaging.

    When did you last see a repair shop for a television? with prices of so called luxury goods dropping all the time, it’s clear that we are being encouraged to buy new instead of repair. Conflicting messages will not help the cause … Thank-you for speaking here though.

  9. MartinCosey-Danes says:

    Just read your comment Mr Green. Looks more like the start of a zero waste manifesto to me. I’d like to hear more about these ideas as they seem to address some important issues, please expand …

  10. Mr Green says:

    @MartinCosey-Danes: Thanks, MartinCosey-Danes, I may just do that, it’s interesting what emerges when you start writing about it

  11. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Dan,
    Thanks for great article; I certainly felt inspired when reading it.

    Something I discovered this week which both uplifted and devastated me at the same time and I’d like to share wih you: Stroud Council did an 18 month trial in an area called the Stanleys.

    They changed all the kerbside collections so that landfill was collected fortnightly and all recycling was collected weekly. They also introduced food waste collections, which were also picked up weekly.

    They saw recycling figures soar from 26% to 53% which is wonderful, isn’t it!?

    That’s the uplifting part and something which backs up my own feeling – if we can hand good kerbside recycling to householders on a plate, they are much more likely to take it up.

    Now for the devastating part.

    The council, despite seeing almost a double in the rates of recycling, were UNABLE TO CONTINUE or roll the scheme out across the district ‘due to cost’. They were tied in to an existing waste contract.
    This I find unacceptable. The coded message here is that they currently need landfill waste to make money and this is wrong. Surely contracts can be renegotiated, surely we must NOT tie ourselves up into long term contracts that threaten sensible and effective progress?

    It’s like saying I still have to use my BBC Electron computer that I had 20 years ago because I’m tied into a contract with it for 25 years. Imagine me running a site on that thing!! (it wouldn’t even connect to the internet – but my point is that this is what we are doing with waste contracts)

    Is there anything that can be done about these contracts that tie people in to things that are no longer viable, sensible, best practise or even good for us and the environment?

  12. Jane says:

    Landfill waste is resourceS in the wrong place.

  13. Hi
    I wish they stop landfill sites. We are making climate charge happen and not very nice like we are making are lovely land in to a mess and taking more land from animals that need it that don’t make a mess of it. You see we can’t make it better recycling everything so we see we can recycle everything so come on and do it. We need to keep everything alive all we are going to be died.

  14. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Hi Jane, I missed this – this is something we use in our presentations; it really gets people thinking 🙂

    @Clare Jane Mcvety: Hello Clare, you sound pretty upset about the landfill sites. You’re right, we ARE making our lovely land a mess and taking things from animals and with a little more effort we could make some great changes. Keep spreading your message and your friends and family will join you I’m sure 🙂

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