Thursday, 4 December 2014

Keep it simple

The latest statistics on waste management and re-cycling have just been published, so most of the media have been carrying stories about local performance. Are we re-cycling more or sending less to landfill than we did last year? How does our community compare to others?

In truth, we’ve done a lot, but there’s a lot more to do. We can see that plastic litter and waste plagues local neighbourhoods, as well as some of our finest countryside, and is particularly damaging to our marine ecosystems.

The amount of litter on British beaches last year was at its highest level in twenty years. Despite all the messages to dispose of waste safely and securely, the number of plastic bags littering the coastline has actually increased by more than 20% since 1996.

Lightweight plastic bags are the worst of all. They tend to shred and get entangled in recycling and re-processing equipment, contaminating and reducing the value of recyclable materials, like paper and cardboard. Reducing the use of plastic bags has to be part of a coherent waste management strategy with a focus on preventing plastic from entering the waste stream in the first place.

Last month, the European Commission adopted a proposal that requires Member States to reduce their use of lightweight plastic carrier bags. It’s up to each country to choose the measures they find most appropriate, including charges, national reduction targets or a ban under certain conditions.

However, this government’s plastic bags policy is an unscientific mess.  It seems determined to ignore the initiatives that have worked elsewhere.  In Wales, the introduction of a charge for all single-use bags in 2010 has had a dramatic impact. Within three years, there had already been a near 80% cut in the number of plastic bags being used.

For some reason, this government is trying to use the future promise of innovation to justify a rushed and flawed policy proposal to allow an exemption for biodegradable bags if a charging scheme is introduced. It makes no sense.

As soon as possible, we should introduce a simple universal plastic bag charge that will dramatically cut plastic waste and litter. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

An end to warm words?

We’ve had our first winter nights where the temperature has dropped below freezing.

About 13 million pensioners are receiving their letters advising that their Winter Fuel Payment (WFP) of £200 (£300 for a household with someone aged 80 or over) will be paid shortly.

I’m delighted that David Cameron resisted the pressure from his own back-benchers to do away with the WFP, although disappointed that he decided to give tax breaks to millionaires rather than updating the WFP with inflation. Energy bills have actually increased significantly more than inflation. Partly in recognition of that, for the winters 2008/2009 to 2010/2011, additional payments worth £50 (or £100 for the 80+ households) were made alongside the standard WFP. Cameron and Clegg cancelled these after 2010/2011.

Of course, paying additional sums towards fuel bills was only one part of the last government’s energy affordability strategy. The plan was to secure sustainably warm homes. It had to combine investing in more energy efficient homes and more efficient fuel technologies as well as supporting bills for those least able to afford them.

Poor energy efficiency is the single biggest reason why so many households are in fuel poverty. A household in the least energy efficient home is currently paying, on average, £965 a year more and is five times more likely to be in fuel poverty than a household with average levels of energy efficiency.

The Warm Front programme saw more than 2 million homes get significantly improved insulation and energy efficiency. In addition, the Decent Homes Programme not only improved insulation standards, but also saw more than a million homes get new energy efficient heating systems. For me, ‘Warmth up; bills down’ was a winning formula.

However, Messrs Cameron and Clegg have managed to replace a warm homes’ programme with a warm words’ policy. They replaced highly successful programmes with ‘The Green Deal’, which has managed to benefit just 2581 households in the last 2 years?  

So, it’s a case of fuel bills up, households in fuel poverty up and action to improve energy efficiency, dramatically down.

You can have your say about this.