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Paul Vanston: New waste strategy can help us tackle climate change

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I’m writing this on Earth Day. Celebrated on 22 April annually, it started in 1970 to raise awareness of global environmental protections. ‘Climate change’ was not then writ large on the world stage. Sir David Attenborough was a mere 43 years old.

Now a nonagenarian, Sir David is crystal clear on the climate change facts. Humanity is at a crossroads. The next five to ten years are critical. Much rests on our attitudes, and the effectiveness of humanity’s collective decisions. ‘Restorative eco-justice’ remains possible. There is hope we can make good with the planet we occupy.

Sir David’s words are sobering and simultaneously empowering. I reflect that almost the entirety of my adult life has been in the service of elected members and citizens – five district councils, a London borough, a county, and multi-council partnerships. I have 30 years of experience with many colours of political parties, and thousands of public servants, who rose to the challenges our communities faced with intellect, passion, grit, and high ethics. My experience is local government takes-on the tough decisions, not shirks them. Local government doesn’t kick cans down the road, it picks them up and runs with them. Local government is perfectly placed to ‘think global and act local’.

This mindset influences my take on the government’s waste and resources strategy. Packaging producers are set to inject billions of pounds into councils’ recycling services from 2023. With councils’ financial constraints substantially helped, it is fully desirable for the whole value chain to discuss and agree actions we can take together.

This includes shared decisions on the packaging formats put into the marketplace, and linked decisions on getting rid of the ‘check locally’ on-pack advice to citizens on whether items can be recycled or not according to localised policies.

Effective shared decision-making could, on plastic packaging alone, divert 500,000 tonnes into the recycling stream. Councils’ recycling performance would improve and, critically, some 11 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions could be avoided. A clear golden thread from local actions to positive global impacts. Sir David would approve.

There are mutual benefits in packaging producers and councils working together on the Resources Strategy and climate change. My offer is this: the Industry Council has an open door through which municipal councils are welcome to enter. You’ll be in good company with like-minded councils and major UK/global companies working to join-up recycling & waste attitudes and actions that will make positive climate change impacts.

Paul Vanston, CEO, Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment, manager of the Kent Resource Partnership 2008-2016


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