Baroness Neville-Rolfe: Consumers and investors need a simple, single system to change behaviour and raise recycling levels

Posted On: 
11th October 2018

Former Business & Treasury Minister and Tesco Director writes following her parliamentary question this week, on the proportion of goods sorted for recycling by households in England eventually ending up in landfill. 

"I have argued for simple uniform rules and a national information campaign to engage more consumers" - Baroness Neville-Rolfe

I have written for PoliticsHome before in February 2018 and July 2017 on this subject. Almost everyone agrees that we are prejudicing the future by degrading the environment, for example by dumping plastic in watercourses. Since I wrote we have all been stirred by Blue Planet II and there is widespread agreement that we need to behave more responsibly. Slowly, all too slowly, something is being done about this. But however much environmental practices and requirements are improved recycling is likely to be a necessary component of a sustainable way of life.

The main problem on recycling is that what can be done varies from one local authority to another, thereby inhibiting investment and that varying requirements in different areas leave consumers confused about what they should do. 

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: Plastics pollution is a serious scourge we must energetically tackle

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: Government must engage business and the consumer to improve recycling rates

I have argued for simple uniform rules and a national information campaign to engage more consumers. While there are undoubtedly cases where people have acted irresponsibly, I believe there are many where people have not followed the rules because they are simply confused.

Asking parliamentary questions is one time-honoured way of keeping the government up to the task and I tabled one this week. I have found recycling is something that engages peers on all sides – I suspect that we all score quite well on household recycling despite the confusion. The minister, Lord Gardiner, explained that very little material that consumers had put for recycling now goes to landfill at any rate in England. That is all to the good. I have a fear however that some goes to landfill elsewhere and of course a good deal is burned, partly because some is contaminated by food waste or black plastic.

But we are moving forward at a snail’s pace. There was pressure in the Lords across the political divide that if we are to make real progress we probably need to adopt a uniform system, at least England wide. This is based on the proposition, true in my opinion, that most people want to do the right thing.

Both consumers and investors need a simple, single system so they can be properly informed and inspired to change their behaviour and raise recycling to the 65 per cent (yes only 65 per cent) achieved by the best local authorities. I am sure that is the right direction of travel and the sooner we recognise the fact the better. The indications are that a government initiative in this direction as part of the Resources and Waste Strategy promised this year would be favourably received by all parties.  

Baroness Neville-Rolfe is a Conservative peer