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Why Did the UK Oppose EU Recycling Targets?

Feb 08 2018 Read 1118 Times

Just weeks after launching its 25-year plan to help the environment, the UK government has apparently resisted ambitious recycling targets as laid out by the EU. Conservative opposition to the EU plans was uncovered by the Unearthed branch of Greenpeace, who found records showing that the UK had blocked plans to introduce recycling targets of 65% by 2035.

These latest proposals by the EU had already been reduced on the UK’s insistence, with a 70% target by 2030 the initial figure. However, despite the reduction, and despite Michael Gove’s continued insistence that the Conservatives are dedicated to alleviating our harmful effects on the environment, it appears they are not prepared to put their money where their mouth is.

A hypocritical stance

Environmental concerns have been growing across the UK over recent years, as evidenced by impressive growth at this year's Air Quality and Emissions event. With the issue particularly important to younger voters, Theresa May’s party have concentrated on painting themselves as eco-friendly, publishing a 25-year plan in January which asserted that “recycling plastics is crucial” to the future of our planet.

However, the decision to resist ambitious proposals from the EU betrays that sentiment. A statement from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said that the government would make its decision on the issue after close scrutiny of the proposals, although the sources uncovered by Greenpeace appear to show it has already done so.

Environment minister Thérèse Coffey has previously argued that such ambitious recycling targets are only useful if they are a) achievable and b) reflective of the varying impacts that different materials have. For example, measuring recyclables by weight alone could skew the figures due to the fact that plastic weighs far less than other materials. However, without publishing an alternative plan, the government leave themselves open to criticism.

No leg to stand on

Indeed, the government’s own calculations show that it is in the best interests of the nation to pursue a robust environmental policy, both ecologically and economically. A presentation from July 2017 estimated that recycling 65% of all waste by 2030 could boost the UK economy up to £10 billion over a ten-year period by saving on social costs, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and waste processing.

With that in mind, the government’s refusal to commit smacks of short-termism and hypocrisy. The leaked opposition to the latest proposals has been met with a volley of criticism from their opponents, who accuse them of setting the wrong example when it comes to pollution. That sentiment has been echoed not only by the shadow parliament but by environmentalists, as well.

“It seems the government has been vocally backing ambitious recycling targets in Westminster while quietly opposing them in Brussels,” remarked Louise Edge, a member of Greenpeace UK. “If [Environment Secretary Michael] Gove wants to avoid accusations of hypocrisy, he should make sure his department speaks with one voice on both sides of the Channel.”   

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