UK waste policy: an interview with Dan Norris MP

Date : 09 October 2009

For the first time since taking up his new post, Dan Norris, Defra Minister responsible for waste policy, is soon to address professionals from the food and grocery industry.

Helping UK businesses reduce waste is a key focus for DanHe'll do this at IGD's Packaging & Product Resource Efficiency conference on 22 October. Ahead of the event, we've caught up with Dan to find out how he’s getting on in his new role, what he thinks of our industry and where he thinks future developments will come from.

Q1. Welcome to your new role. What do you see as your key priorities to deliver a more resource efficient economy?

Delivering a more resource efficient economy forms an important element of the Government’s work to achieve its target of an 80% reduction in UK greenhouse gas emissions. As well as carbon savings, its very important to minimise waste, and reduce our water use and our demand for natural resources. Action in all these areas will help protect the natural environment and help ensure we have sufficient resources in the future.

Importance to business

A particular focus is working with business. Research suggests that UK businesses are missing out on savings of about £6.4billion per year from simple improvements to their operations, mostly from energy efficiency measures and minimising waste.

With this in mind, we are working with businesses to help them understand the benefits of resource efficiency. We want businesses to understand the strategic importance of this issue to them, particularly given the risks to operations that can arise as a result of resource scarcity, such as the rising cost of materials, and raw materials no longer being available.

Defra is working with businesses in a number of ways to help them become more resource efficient, including providing advice and guidance, setting clear reporting frameworks and demonstrating and encouraging best practice.

Q2. We are aware that in the current economic climate our members are thinking a lot harder about resource efficiency. How is the government looking at resource efficiency for the food and grocery industry and what might the outcomes be?

WRAP's focus is on preventing waste throughout the chainGovernment welcomes the work that the food and grocery industry are doing to improve their resource efficiency. As your readers will know, Defra funds a number of delivery bodies to help stimulate and support business to be more resource efficient. Its principal delivery body is the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) which is developing waste prevention reviews to provide examples of good practice.

These reviews are designed to promote the principle of resource efficiency throughout the life of a product from the factory gate through to final consumption by the consumer. The focus is on preventing waste – both packaging waste as well as food waste – all the way through this chain.

Courtauld Commitment

We particularly welcome the work that the sector is doing with WRAP through the Courtauld Commitment. This initiative has already achieved its first objective of stopping growth in packaging in the grocery sector and signatories are now working towards delivering reductions in packaging waste as well as helping to reduce the amount of food householders throw away by 155,000 tonnes by 2010.

Carrier bags

We also welcome the progress that the retail sector has made on reducing carrier bag use. The leading supermarkets and their customers in England are now using 346 million fewer single-use carrier bags every month than in 2006. We look forward to seeing further substantial reductions in usage as Defra and the Waste & Resources Action Programme continue to work closely with retailers on this initiative over the next year.

DEFRA will be developing PAS2050 going forwardFuture focus

Going forward we will be developing PAS2050 to help with measuring the greenhouse gas emissions associated with products as well as investigating the scope for examining water use. We have recently commissioned research on future trends on resource efficiency and waste generation in the food chain to help assess what further steps Government should be taking.

Turning to packaging, the Government’s new packaging strategy sets out how we will support businesses to become more resource efficient – through new and existing voluntary agreements, the use of eco design principles and standards, and the range of free advice that is available to businesses.


Q3. Industry develops voluntary agreements (Courtauld Commitment), gives advice to consumers (labelling for recycling) and is subject to financial controls (Landfill Tax). What other mechanisms can we use to drive environmental improvement?

In addition to the ones you mention there are a range of tools which can and have been used to drive environmental improvement. Working together with industry we have been able provide advice and support to businesses to help them become more resource efficient.

  • We have developed measuring and reporting tools like the PAS2050 carbon footprinting tool that was launched last year.
  • Product roadmaps have been developed for milk and clothing and new ones are being developed for fish, domestic lighting and TVs.
  • There have been campaigns to encourage consumers to behave more sustainably, like the “Reynolds Cheshire” campaign which raised awareness of the benefits of seasonal and locally grown food.
  • Minimum performance standards have been set for energy using products. The eight agreed so far will reduce CO2 emissions by around 7million tonnes a year by 2020.

When it comes to waste reduction, industry has a fantastic record of innovation.

When it comes to waste reduction, industry has a fantastic record of innovation. Now let’s take this one step further by building resource efficiency principles right from the time products are conceived. When your marketing and product development departments develop a new range, do they have waste prevention in mind? At the end of life stage, more consumer information in-store about what their local recycling service offers would make a difference, as well as innovation in how retailers can complement local authority services.

Q4. Technology can provide solutions to support the waste hierarchy (reduce, re-use, recycle, compost and recover for energy). What do you see as the key areas of technology improvement to support better resource management?

It’s really important to deploy more of the technology we already have – particularly anaerobic digestion and other forms of energy from waste. One innovation I would like to see is a better way of measuring the biomass content of waste feedstock in EfW plants, which would encourage investors to take more advantage of the generous economic incentives on offer.

Communicating about packaging with consumers is key

Q5. What role do the government and/or local authorities, plus the food and grocery industry, play in encouraging the public to understand how to protect the product (so that it is not wasted) and cutting packaging?

I believe industry has a role to play in helping to inform consumers about what packaging is necessary, but Government and local authorities also have a duty to take action when packaging is excessive.

There is no doubt that packaging fulfils an important role. It protects food and other goods on their journey from farm or factory via warehouses and shops until they arrive at homes, offices or wherever they are used. The key role of packaging is to avoid spoilage and damage in the supply system and in the home.

We think there is scope for retailers, packaging compliance schemes and local authorities to work together more to explain the role packaging plays in protecting products, how consumers can recycle their waste packaging, what has been done to minimise the packaging which ends up in their bin and what they can do if they come across excessive packaging.