Defra lacks “effective” long-term plans to reduce waste emissions – NAO



The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) still lacks effective long-term plans to reduce waste which contributes to climate change, a new report by the National Audit Office says.

The National Audit Office (NAO), the independent public spending watchdog, has released a report which finds that more than four years after the government published the waste and resources strategy, effective delivery plans to achieve its targets “do not exist”.

The NAO concludes this is making it “increasingly difficult” for businesses to prepare for investment and regulatory changes that will be required to achieve Defra’s long-term plans.

The report, “The government’s resources and waste reforms for England”, follows an open letter by CIWM (Chartered Institution of Wastes Management) to the Prime Minister calling for “urgent action” from the government on Packaging and Collection Reforms.

Alongside its report, the NAO also highlights that household recycling rates in England have stalled since 2011-12.

The report cites as an example of Defra’s “insufficient planning” that the Department hasn’t prioritised eliminating waste at source.

Defra does not have effective long-term plans for how it will achieve its ambitions for reducing waste.

The NAO says Defra has made some progress by establishing its collection and packaging reforms. However, it warns that the effectiveness of the upcoming deposit return scheme (DRS) is “uncertain”. The NAO continues that weaknesses in Defra’s set-up of the collection and packaging reforms – along with factors outside of its control – have contributed to delays, and the risk of not delivering to the latest timetable is “high”.

Since publishing the 2018 strategy, the government has established legislative obligations to halve the amount of residual waste per person in England by 2042; this includes waste sent to landfills and incineration. Defra expects that its collection and packaging reforms will play an important role in achieving its targets, but the NAO says the reforms will not be enough on their own.

Although work is underway to explore plans for further intervention, the NAO says Defra does not know what decisions about new interventions need to be made and when to ensure realistic timeframes for design, testing and implementation – and doesn’t know what sequence of interventions is likely to produce the most benefit.

Defra must now establish a clear and coherent plan for its work on waste and resources.

To improve Defra’s plans to achieve its targets, the NAO recommends the Department develop a “clear outline path” to achieving its resource and waste targets, determine the likely cost implications of different policy options and proactively engage stakeholders to give them clarity over its plans.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, commented: “Reducing waste is critical to reducing emissions and achieving some of government’s wider environmental goals, but Defra does not have effective long-term plans for how it will achieve its ambitions for reducing waste, and there has been a delay to its implementation of reforms.

“Defra must now establish a clear and coherent plan for its work on waste and resources, addressing the weaknesses in the reforms already in progress. If Defra takes these steps, it will be in a much stronger position to achieve its ambitions.”

Industry reactions

Local Authorities

Responding to the National Audit Office’s report, Cllr Linda Taylor, environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA), said: “Councils work hard to maintain recycling rates and divert millions of tonnes of waste from landfill. While more needs to be done to boost recycling to reach national targets and even higher standards, avoiding creating waste in the first place is the best way to decrease how much ends up in landfill.

“For this to happen, businesses and manufacturers need to build waste reduction and the reuse of packaging into their operations, and local authorities need certainty on the timetable for implementation of the full set of Defra’s reforms to waste and recycling. This must include ensuring there are no further delays to the implementation of the extended producer responsibility scheme.”

Avoiding creating waste in the first place is the best way to decrease how much ends up in landfill.

Tim Duret, Director of Sustainable Technology, Veolia UK, commented: “We all want to push for higher recycling rates and help more items find their way into the circular economy. Waste reduction, eco-design and consistency in collections will all help us to reduce the amount of waste we produce and help create a recycling society, but we need the government to act now.

“The sooner the government puts the Resources and Waste Strategy into practice the faster this will happen. Businesses, local authorities and the recycling industry need clarity so we can prepare for the changes in the most viable and sustainable way.”

The government risks missing its own targets.

Professor Jim Hall of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “Recycling more and reducing emissions from incineration and landfill are crucial steps to meeting the country’s net zero goals, and yet progress on recycling rates and expanding food waste collections is clearly stuttering.

“This report reinforces our own assessment that without a clear set of goals and delivery plans to turn its ambitions into action on the ground, the government risks missing its own targets.

“A crucial first step is giving local authorities and their waste management partners certainty about the standards they will need to meet, the timetable they must follow and what funding will be available to help them invest in new systems and support households to play their part.”

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