Sunday, July 31, 2011 - 22:54
Moth eaten policies...?


Ray Georgeson


Thanks to the power of the new social media, we were treated recently to the news that Defra’s offices in London had to be closed at a weekend for fumigation in order to be rid of a serious infestation of Tineola bisselliella - the common moth. 
An innocent and gently amusing post on Twitter by a Defra civil servant mentioned the closure and mused as to whether the fumigation had been approved of by ‘biodiversity colleagues’. The story was subsequently quickly picked up by the national media. Of course, the irony that Defra is also responsible for pest control was not lost upon them, neither was the opportunity to have a bit of fun about mothballed and woolly policies.. 
It’s a bit rotten that poor old Defra was picked on for this bit of mild ridicule, as it seems that the common moth has been rampant recently, as a consequence of the unseasonal warm weather in the Spring and so sales of mothballs have rocketed.   They thrive in warm and humid environments, and it would appear that the clothing of hot and sweaty cyclists have been identified as a favoured breeding ground. This is where Defra comes into the picture for special attention. 
Many of our friends in Defra do indeed practice what they preach, and there are a lot of cyclists in their workforce, all of whom are storing these warm and sweaty clothes all over the building. Indeed, a friend who works in a London based NGO is always complaining that there is never any room in the Defra cycle rack! So it seems that the environmental commitment of a decent number of civil servants may well have exacerbated the size of the problem they had and at the same time deepened the irony of the need for a pretty nasty chemical-based eradication exercise.
Those of you who have the view that Defra isn’t anywhere near as radical as we would wish on environment policy will be amused to know that in Whitehall circles they are in fact seen as ‘those potty greens’. The Defra cyclists surely reinforce that prejudiced view. Sadly I can’t attribute the quote, but it’s a pretty common view from civil servants outside Defra.
Perhaps by now you are feeling a little sympathetic to the plight of the mildly ridiculed Department? I wonder. I suspect, like me, some of you will find it hard to resist the temptation to speculate about the mothballed policies that we might have liked to see implemented, as well as those that we’d quite like to see eaten by the little critters.
My own favourite for taking out of mothballs would still be the introduction of the optional ability to introduce ‘pay as you throw’ for domestic refuse collection. Despite countless well researched reports in the last decade that show evidence that in most of Western Europe and parts of North America and Australasia this works in terms of changing behaviour, increasing recycling and reducing waste – and that any flytipping issues quickly die down with good education and good collections systems, the policy remains not just mothballed but encased in concrete and consigned to the bottom of a deep river.
As for candidates for rapid mothballing, how about Defra’s unique approach to interpreting ‘separate collection’ of recyclables under the revised Waste Framework Directive as including commingled recycling collections – an definitional approach to the Directive which appears to be unique to the UK within the EU.
No doubt you will have your own favourites. It could prove to be a mildly amusing dinner party game for those of us who work in waste (and therefore don’t get invited to dinner parties with ‘normal’ people!). Have some fun with it - and of course, by the time you read this we will have another dinner party conversation topic having read and digested Defra’s new Waste Policy Review.
I wonder if it will have any holes in it….?

Published in Resource magazine, Jul/Aug 2011