The environment should be seen for what it is- more important than Brexit

Written by: Ploy Radford | Published:

July’s bloody cull by new Prime Minister Boris Johnson showed he had little desire to reuse the political assets already sitting in Cabinet.

So, what does his government mean for the future of waste and recycling in this country?

Well, first and foremost, despite the changes at the top, there is not likely to be a radical departure from existing policy on green issues. Michael Gove may no longer be the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after two years in the position, but he is still a Cabinet Office member.

Unless Johnson wants to engage in an all-out political war with Gove, which is highly unlikely at this stage, Gove’s policies while at Defra, such as his ban on microbeads and fuel combustion vehicles by 2040, are unlikely to be overturned. Sector stakeholders don’t need to worry about any U-turns just yet.

Sadly, the likely lack of focus on changing existing policy is also symptomatic of something undesirable for the sector: an all-consuming focus on Brexit. Right now, the government’s main priority is making sure the UK leaves the EU, with or without a deal, on 31 October, and then managing the fallout of that. Responses to any other asks of them by industry leaders will be politely delayed.

This doesn’t mean though that we won’t see further commitments from government to further the green agenda once we have begun exiting the EU. The UK will have to, after all, come up with its own rules on what it deems acceptable environmental standards.

Bearing in mind that Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds works for Oceana, an international organisation that focuses on conserving the health of our oceans, and his father Stanley is an environmental campaigner, we could see positive policies come out of Westminster for the waste and recycling sector.

However, Johnson’s choice for Gove’s successor at Defra, Theresa Villiers, suggests that the picture is more mixed. Upon taking the position, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland commented that the issues the department deals with are “incredibly important” and that she has “championed a number of them, including air quality and animal welfare”; for example, opposing the expansion of Heathrow Airport.

However, more controversially, Villiers’ voting record suggests support for fracking, and she has previously outlined this support on her website. Her record also includes voting against a bill in 2015 to set targets for the amount of greenhouse gases that the UK produces. It will therefore be interesting to see which of Villiers’ instincts win out in the long run.

It is also promising to see the launch of the National Food Strategy this summer. Commissioned by Gove when he was still Environment Secretary, the National Food Strategy team are conducting a year-long review of the UK’s food system, the first such review to be done in 75 years. The issue of food waste will form a key part of the questioning during the review and final analysis that comes out of it six months later.

Of course, you could argue, reviews are all well and good, but government could well ignore the result. You could argue the influence of Gove, Coffey, Symonds and Johnson Senior may well be non-existent as our current government could no longer be in place in a few months’ time.

However, there is no denying that the issue of saving the health of our planet is top of the public’s agenda. Notably, Greta Thunberg’s transatlantic sailing trip, and the controversial use of private jets by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex after the Duke said in Vogue magazine that he and his wife would only have two children in order to help save the environment.

The issue of waste and recycling is clearly highly politicised now, and politicians looking for public support would be foolish to take their eye entirely off it for Brexit.

Ploy Radford is a consultant at public relations agency PLMR

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