Groundbreaking new policy: make do and mend


Houses of Parliament

The government is so green that it's planning to recycle policies. Lord de Mauley, the waste minister at the Department for the Environment, has been producing a strategy to ensure the UK meets European targets for cutting waste. Top of the list is a plan to encourage us all to 'make do and mend'.

So is there anything new in his plans - or is this flagrant policy recycling?

Late to the party

In many ways writing some of this initiative down constitutes a waste of time, money and paper. Making do and mend has already become part of British culture over the last six years.

We have been eBaying, upcycling and freecycling our way through the financial crisis. People no longer dump old shelving units on the side of the street for the council to take away - they leave it with a sign saying 'please take me', and invariably someone does.

It has seeped into our consciousness from every side. You can't turn on the TV without Kirsty Alsop explaining how to knit your own sofa out of old jumpers, or furnish a home with old school chairs and scaffolding planks. "Thrift Shop' has even been at number one in the charts.

We have also been on the case for cutting food waste - with high-profile campaigns to love food and hate waste, as well as endless blogs and cookery books devoted to the art of using up leftovers.

Now the government has joined the party, and teaching us to suck eggs. As he published a consultation on his proposals Lord de Mauley told the Daily Telegraph: "What we have set out in this programme will help businesses save money, help people cut back on waste and pass on items that they would otherwise throw away."

Among the suggestions are that we reuse shopping bags, repair items instead of replacing them, and buy and sell through internet auction sites. It's insightful stuff indeed.

So is it utterly worthless?

The government clearly doesn't think so. According to Defra we already recycle 17% of everything we throw away, but around 60% of everything we throw away could be recycled.

It thinks there's so much more that can be done that families could save £1 billion a year. According to the Daily Mail another Defra minister, Richard Benyon, says that families waste up to £50 of food every month, which could constitute another major saving.

It's not targeting the easy wins who are already converts to the joys of 'vintage' and 'shabby chic' - it's trying to convince those last few people who are wedded to their plastic carrier bags, don't want to repair their TV because they want a new one, and don't like new fangled inventions like eBay.

The question is whether those last die-hards are going to be convinced by advice from the government any more than they are by enthusiastic exhortations from Alsop, or whether they need financial incentives and penalties to help them on their way.


We also need to ask whether councils are doing enough - or whether their refusal to collect things that can easily be recycled is missing a vital trick. With so many councils refusing to include plastic packaging, or even glass from their rounds, surely the most sensible next step is to demand better recycling facilities rather than lecture the general populace about the existence of eBay.

The plus side of this expensive and seemingly pointless exercise, is that an additional part of the policy will measure how many tonnes of waste each household produces, and will introduce benchmarks for businesses to try to cut the waste they produce. This will at least give us conclusive proof of whether it persuaded us to make that £1 billion in savings - or whether we need more positive measures.

Inside the £450k hoarder house

Inside the £450k hoarder house