The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has today (23 July) published its position on a range of environmental issues and has published its much-anticipated response to its Resources and Waste Strategy for England consultations.
The Resources and Waste Strategy for England complements and expands upon the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.
It sets out a policy framework aimed at ensuring that resources are used more efficiently in the UK economy, and that waste is minimised and deployed as a valuable source of raw materials.
Much of the strategy focuses on the top end of the waste hierarchy – waste prevention and reuse – but it also addresses key aspects of recycling, energy recovery, landfill and waste crime.
The strategy also confirms that the European Union Circular Economy legislation agreed earlier this year will be transposed into UK law in full.
As we have set out today, our plans will improve air quality so that our children live longer, restore habitats and increase biodiversity, strive towards a more circular economy and ensure we can manage our precious water resources in a changing climate
While the Defra strategy is broad in scope and commendably ambitious, many of the key measures it contains were subject to further consultation.
Defra has now published its response to the six consultations that followed.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “We know we must do all we can to protect our precious natural environment. There is a clear need to act to ensure we do not leave this planet to the next generation more polluted, more dangerous and denuded of its natural riches.
“The measures in our Environment Bill will position the UK as a world leader, ensuring that after EU Exit environmental ambition and accountability are placed more clearly than ever before at the heart of government.
“As we have set out today, our plans will improve air quality so that our children live longer, restore habitats and increase biodiversity, strive towards a more circular economy and ensure we can manage our precious water resources in a changing climate.”
Waste and resource efficiency
New legal powers will allow government to set resource-efficiency product standards with an aim of “driving a shift” in the market towards more durable, reparable and recyclable products.
“We will also set information requirements so that manufacturers can communicate the resource efficiency of their products more effectively, allowing consumers to make more environmentally friendly purchasing decisions,” Defra says.
It will ensure packaging producers pay the full net costs of disposing of their packaging at end of life. At the moment, producers pay only around 10% of the cost of household packaging waste. Defra says it will make them responsible for 100% of the net cost incurred in dealing with their packaging once it becomes waste.
New legal powers will allow government to set resource-efficiency product standards with an aim of “driving a shift” in the market towards more durable, reparable and recyclable products
Where waste cannot be avoided, Defra says it will introduce a “consistent and simplified” approach to recycling across local authorities, making it “simpler for everyone to recycle, with a consistent set of materials to be collected from all households and businesses (including food waste), and clearer labelling on packaging so we all know what we can recycle”.
It says it will also take powers in the Environment Bill to introduce deposit return schemes (DRS), and powers to introduce an electronic system of waste tracking with an aim of enabling better use of waste as a resource and to “make it easier to identify and stop illegal activity”.
Deposit return scheme (DRS)
- A deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers – More than 200,000 people responded to this consultation, demonstrating strong support for a DRS scheme.
- the proposed scope and model of a DRS will be presented in a second consultation in 2020.
- The Bill will introduce powers that will enable a deposit return scheme to be implemented in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from 2023.
DRS next steps:
- to seek primary powers to implement deposit return schemes in the Environment Bill.
- to hold a second consultation in 2020 on the regulatory framework for introducing a DRS through secondary legislation.
- following the second consultation, we would introduce a DRS from 2023.
- Consistency in household and business recycling – The government aims to make it easier for people to recycle by implementing a consistent and simplified approach across local authorities. The government will legislate to introduce a core set of consistent recyclable materials (including food waste) to be collected from all households and businesses, supporting frequent and comprehensive rubbish and recycling collections.
- It will also require manufacturers to put clearer labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle.
Given what it calls “strong support” for greater consistency, the government will seek to amend legislation to require all English local authorities to collect at least the following dry materials from 2023:
- glass bottles and containers – including drinks bottles, condiment bottles, jars
- paper and card – including newspaper, cardboard packaging, writing paper
- plastic bottles – including clear drinks containers, HDPE (milk containers), detergent, shampoo and cleaning products
- plastic pots tubs and trays
- steel and aluminium tins and cans
- We will consider carefully how this steer will interact with our proposals for a deposit return scheme, as a complementary way of driving up increased recycling rates for some specific material types.
Extended producer responsibility
- Extended producer responsibility (EPR) – Mr Gove says he wants to “drive a shift” in the market towards durable, repairable and recyclable products.
- New powers to enact EPR schemes that will ensure producers pay the full costs of managing the disposal of their products will be sought, as well as powers to enable government to set resource efficient product requirements.
EPR next steps:
- Government will introduce an extended producer responsibility system for packaging in 2023, subject to a second “more detailed” consultation.
Plastics packaging tax
- The proposed single-use plastics packaging taxaims to create “greater demand” for recycled plastic, stimulating increased levels of collection and recycling of plastic waste.
- Government says it will seek to ensure that the plastic packaging tax being developed by HM Treasury complements the reforms to the packaging producer responsibility system.
- The tax will create “greater demand” for recycled plastic with the packaging EPR system, incentivising both the design and use of easier-to-recycle plastic packaging and the collection and separation of plastic packaging for recycling, Defra says.
Plastic tax next steps:
- The government will set out the next steps at Budget 2019.
- HMRC will publish a technical consultation on the detail of the tax design at a later date, and publish draft legislation for consultation in 2020.
Mr Gove has also set out the government’s ambitions for the full Environment Bill in an updated summer policy statement, including commitments to legislate on environmental governance, air, biodiversity, water, and waste and resource efficiency.
Announced by the Prime Minister last year, the landmark Environment Bill will be an essential step to put the 25 Year Environment Plan on statutory footing, placing environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government.
Regarding the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which will be established to act as a “green watchdog”, it will offer a “free-to-use complaints system”, and crucially have the power to undertake its own investigations at its own instigation, government has announced.
The OEP will also be able to take central Government and public bodies to court for “any failure to abide by environmental law, if necessary”
The OEP will also be able to take central Government and public bodies to court for “any failure to abide by environmental law, if necessary”.
This report concludes that, whilst challenging, it would be “technically feasible” to meet the WHO guideline level across the UK.
Further analysis is needed to understand what would be an appropriate timescale and means, it says, and government will now work with a “broad range” of experts, factoring in full economic, social and technological feasibility to do this.