ESA executive director Jacob Hayler: 'We need to stop criminals entering the sector'

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:
ESA executive director Jacob Hayler

Following news of a partnership between the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and the Environment Agency, RWW sits down with ESA executive director Jacob Hayler to find out what it means for the sector.

Since he was just knee-high, Jacob Hayler has been interested in environmental issues. The Environmental Services Association (ESA) executive director remembers fondly school projects where he, along with the rest of the “garbage kids”, would head down to the river to film shots of fly-tipping sites and polluted rivers near his west London family home.

It’s clear Hayler carries this childhood passion with him in a professional capacity, describing his role at the ESA as “very fun, very rewarding and extremely busy”. The ESA is made up of around 100 members from operational backgrounds as well as advisors, bankers, lawyers and technical consultants. Its role is to represent the views of its members to the government, regulator and external stakeholders and ensure they are appropriately represented.

Over the summer, the ESA began a new chapter in its history after agreeing to a new partnership with the Environment Agency (EA). Although the news may have brought on a collective eye roll from those who consider announcements of new partnerships as forces of little change, Hayler is adamant this is not the case.

He says: “Our members have a lot in common with the agency in terms of what we want to achieve for the sector. We all agree that we need a professional and competent, well-resourced industry that’s managing waste in a way which protects the environment and health as well as making the best use of resources that come out of the waste stream.

“We’ve always had a good relationship with the agency, but now we thought this was a good time to take things forward as we have a real appetite to showcase a lot of the good technical work we do.”

What will it mean for the sector?

The aim of the new partnership is to develop areas of the industry jointly agreed by the two organisations that need to be improved. This will come in four work streams: refreshing the EA’s approach to regulation; improving technical competence in the waste sector; earning recognition of the sector; and taking tough action against waste crime.

The partnership sounds relatively straight-forward. The more help the ESA can offer the EA, the larger the progress in the sector will be. Yet decisions often take a while to agree on, particularly if they involve hefty changes within the waste management industry.

To combat this, the ESA has set up a project board filled with senior management on both sides of the table. Planned to meet several times a year, the board will monitor progress on all of the partnership’s aims as well as create a pipeline of future regulation.

Hayler adds: “It’s very early days and we have only just made the agreement. The very positive aspect is that we have had senior buy-in from both sides, so really we couldn’t have a better chance of making it work.”

Tackling waste crime

The challenge now is to turn aims into real action, something which Hayler seems more than ready to do. He says: “We are unified in a common agenda. We want to help the agency design regulation which is proportionate and risk-based and would eventually lead to a self-regulation model. This would enable the agency to focus its work on poor performers and outright criminals in the sector.”

And it is these criminals which Hayler and the rest of the team are determined to come down hard on. He says: “We want to see waste crime pushed out of the sector and standards raised. A lot of material leaks away from the legitimate sector and undermines the work they are doing. It leads to a grey area where people get sucked in to poor performance and are dragged down by that criminal element.”

Over recent years, it is no secret that public sector funding has taken a big hit, with grant aid the EA receives decreasing dramatically. Yet Hayler refuses to be deterred. “It’s more important than ever to figure out how we can pool our resources and achieve that common vision we both have.”

Making up for past mistakes

When it comes to regulating the waste sector, many argue more can and should be done, often pointing the finger at the EA for allowing flaws in its current regulation. Hayler negates this criticism, defending the EA and the onerous task it has in front of it.

He says: “The EA has a very difficult job when regulating the waste sector. Waste is difficult to handle, carries a threat of pollution and there’s a big influx of a criminal element. Therefore the EA may not know where best to target its resources.

“We would like to achieve a situation where when the agency identifies a problem, it can set out its objectives and then the ESA can provide it with advice earlier in the process without it causing big disruptions to the market.”

Hayler again is well-rehearsed in how the ESA plans to take on the challenges waste crime poses. He says: “The first is to stop criminals entering the sector by making it more difficult to come in by raising technical competence requirements.

“Next we make it harder for these criminals to get their hands on material, encouraging large construction companies, developers and retailers to take their duty of care to the fullest extent to clean up their supply chains. And finally, when something has gone wrong, we shut it down and shut it down quickly.”

Getting on the agenda

Over the summer, the media have been brimming with headlines relating to Michael Gove and his appointment at Defra. As with any appointment of this nature, criticism was soon to follow, yet Hayler affirms the ESA’s relationship is a positive one.

“I was very pleased to hear of the Gove announcement, it’s great to have a political heavyweight in our sponsoring department. The secretary of state has a reputation for being a radical thinker and there’s great scope for this in waste and resources. We have a good working relationship with officials, they are very aware of our concerns and where we are coming from.”

It is no secret that the ESA has been calling on Defra to develop a new strategy across waste and resources as well as the 25-year environment plan, and while on topic, Hayler hints that this will soon come to fruition.

He says: “We’re expecting something that looks like a strategy for waste and resources that fits in to the 25-year environment plan framework. We want a strategy that gives us certainty post-Brexit in terms of what the government thinks we should be trying to achieve using our waste and resources beyond 2020.”

The next 12 months look set to be an exciting time for the ESA, and the challenge now for the organisation will be to drive positive action that will silence the critics and create real progress in the waste industry.

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