Just a few weeks ago, on the 11th January, the Prime Minister delivered a keynote speech, setting out a bold new vision for a cleaner, more environmentally friendly country. The speeches were certainly comprehensive; touching on everything from clean air to animal welfare, and of course – waste clearance.

There was a lot said about recycling in the plan, in particular on the scourge of ‘single use plastics’ which has gained some ground in the media recently. But beneath the words of the speech, what were the actual proposals? What measures will actually be take – and how successful will that all be? We have a look through the details.

The report and its proposals

In fact the speech itself was of fairly little consequence – the interesting thing was the accompanying report that set out in detail the government’s proposals. The 25-year environmental plan, as it’s called, includes a section on minimising waste. Here’s a look at the proposals:

  • A target of zero avoidable waste by 2050
  • Zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
  • Meeting all existing waste targets.
  • Eliminating waste crime and illegal waste sites – fly-tipping is a huge problem.
  • Significantly reducing all kinds of marine plastic pollution.

What you’ll notice about these proposals is that they’re heavy on what the government wants to achieve, but fairly light on how they’re going to achieve it.

Will this change much in the world of waste clearance?

The problem with this tick list is that it’s difficult to say whether something’s actually going to happen, just because a target’s been set. For this reason, you can almost immediately discount the third point, since it looks almost certain we’ll fail to meet our target of 50 per cent of all waste being recycled by 2020.

At last count, we were hovering around 44.3 per cent, having barely moved more than a few percentage point since 2010, and actually having reduced total recycling since the year before.

By association, that also makes the two new targets seem, at best, a little superficial. If we can’t meet our current targets, what are the chances of us meeting new ones? Even if you discounted the fact that the EU’s recently published equivalent targets are much more ambitious, it’s difficult to make an assumption about outcomes from these intentions.

Spotlight on environmental policy

If anything good has come out of the report and its accompanying speech, it’s that environmental policy debate has been bought into the spotlight. For better or worse, the government has made this a keynote speech and policy platform – so it’s going to look pretty stupid if we don’t hear anything about it again for the next few years.

In the short term, the way you handle waste clearance isn’t likely to be revolutionised tomorrow just because the Prime Minister delivered a speech. The truth is, there’s not much the government can enact in the way of sweeping policies that would make a whole lot of difference.

If we want to actually see big reform, you, us, and everyone else in the world are just going to have to get on with it and make change happen ourselves.