Councils face uncertainty as they wait on Defra announcement


refuse collection

Councils’ plans have been thrown into uncertainty after Defra announced it was replacing “Consistency in Recycling” with a new programme called “Simpler Recycling”.

Last week (18 September), Rishi Sunak said he had scrapped “burdensome” proposals he said would “force” British people to have seven different bins in their homes.

According to reports, the government was considering providing households with “seven bins”, six separate recycling bins and one for general waste, as part of its recycling scheme.

Shortly after the press conference finished, Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) emailed out the announcement it was creating a new programme called “Simpler Recycling”, which it said would be outlined shortly.

Reacting to the announcements, the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) described itself as “dazed and confused”.

The Government is at least consistent on being inconsistent when it comes to action to improve recycling.

NLWA Chair, Cllr Clyde Loakes, commented: “The Government is at least consistent on being inconsistent when it comes to action to improve recycling, with constant dither and delays!

“The Government proposed its consistent collections reforms in 2018 and even now – a tortuous five years and four Secretaries of State later – many important details are still unclear.”

Defra says “Simpler Recycling” scraps the “top-down” approach and ensures a requirement to recycle with seven bins will not happen.

Defra’s statement also said the new scheme means materials won’t need to be separated at home, seemingly backing a commingled recycling approach. The email reads that “whilst it was never the case that seven bins would be needed by households, this new plan ensures it”.

Local AuthoritiesLoakes continued: “Regrettably, rather than clarify matters the Government has gone for headline-grabbing with its talk of ‘seven bins’ – which in the next breath they say was never the case – as the actual objective of consistent collections in recycling is to ensure that every local authority across the UK can collect all types of waste that is recyclable, not prescriptive instructions on the numbers of bins.

“The lack of clarity and inaction by the Government merely sows confusion and sends mixed messages to business and residents. We need decisive action, timings for any changes, and Government funding to support local authorities’ increased costs as a result of any required changes such as compulsory separate weekly food waste collections.”

Councils have been waiting for the Defra to respond to a 2021 consultation on food waste consistency, which had indicated councils would be made to follow top-down rules on how waste is collected.

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) says the lack of a response has created a “policy vacuum” and left councils unable to make decisions on how to improve waste services as they didn’t know if their plans would follow Government rules.

The DCN, a special interest group of the Local Government Association, is a cross-party network of 168 district and unitary councils.

We would wholeheartedly welcome a decision to allow councils to retain local discretion.

In response to yesterday’s announcement, Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, Chairman of the DCN, said: “We would wholeheartedly welcome a decision to allow councils to retain local discretion about devising a system that works for their communities, whether they are densely-packed urban environments or sparsely-populated rural areas.

“A centralised, standardised approach would have been both ineffective and financially costly for the taxpayer. In some cases, councils would have been required to procure vast fleets of vehicles which would have travelled significant distances – at some environmental cost – in order to collect relatively small amounts of waste which would have to be sorted and collected in separate streams.

“We look forward to seeing the detail, in particular, the financial support councils will be offered to ensure any centrally-driven changes are viable. We also urge the Government to work with us to ensure reforms are implemented in a realistic timescale.”

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