Recycling reforms stalled by UK Government’s lack of clarity – PAC report


Houses of Parliament

Government ambitions to reduce environmental and economic costs of waste are under threat due to a lack of clarity and delays, according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The PAC’s report finds businesses and local authorities are unable to prepare for the required changes due to a lack of clarity on what form the reforms will take and the impact on council funding. It warns that without clarification, a resulting lack of investment will stop the UK Government from reaching its targets for reducing the environmental and economic costs of waste.           

Without clarification, local councils cannot invest and improve their recycling services and must delay procurement, the report says. The PAC warns that there is a “real risk” that this would result in insufficient facilities to deal with the increased volumes of recycling caused by the reforms, which the report says more plastics will be incinerated, taken to landfill, or exported to other countries than before.

The report also finds that Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) needs to provide similar clarity to support its longer-term waste policies. Without the certainty of a long-term infrastructure plan, private sector companies lack the confidence to invest in new recycling facilities, the report says.

To meet its targets, it’s vital that the Government encourages a circular economy where products can be used again or for longer.

The report calls for clarification about the requirements for the programme’s waste infrastructure. Without the published requirements, timeline for implementation and funding confirmation, businesses and councils cannot use this time to make the necessary investments in their services, the report says.

While simpler recycling is projected to increase recycling rates to 52% – 60% by 2035, the PAC warns that without successful contributions from other projects, Defra will not reach its 2035 target to recycle 65% of all municipal waste.

The PAC says “weaknesses” in Defra’s set-up of the programme contributed to delays, including running the programme as three separate projects and poor programme management capability and capacity.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee commented: “To meet its targets, it’s vital that the Government encourages a circular economy where products can be used again or for longer. Without a clearly communicated vision from Government on how these crucial reforms will actually work in practice, it’s unlikely that these targets will be reachable.

“Our inquiry has found that the reforms were beset with problems from the initial set up, with the Department lacking a clear plan on how to make their ambitions to reduce the environmental and economic costs of municipal waste feasible.”

Industry reactions


Commenting on the Public Accounts Committee’s final report on the Government’s programme of waste reforms, Dr. Adam Read, Chief External Affairs and Sustainability Officer, SUEZ Recycling & Recovery UK, said: “The release of the PAC Committee findings comes amid a tumultuous period in politics, and it is encouraging to witness a positive step forward following a series of waste reforms marked by ambiguity.

Dr. Adam Read, Chief External Affairs and Sustainability Officer, SUEZ.

“Industry and local authorities need time and information to plan their transitions under all the new policy requirements and continued delay and uncertainty costs money, time and delays improvements in the system that fights climate change and resource loss. This plan is essential to prevent the repetition of past mistakes.”

Environmental Services Association (ESA) recycling policy advisor, Patrick Brighty, said: “We are encouraged to see Defra’s commitment to rectifying previous weaknesses in the Collection and Packaging Reforms (CPR) and to running the reforms as a cohesive integrated programme going forward.

“We now need to take the learnings from the report and move into the implementation phase of the CPR. To deliver the programme, we need the finalised EPR regulations for packaging to come into force so that our sector can mobilise around them.

“Following the publication of Simpler Recycling in October, the recycling and waste sector will need time to work with our local authority partners, and business waste producers in England, to determine collection systems and make the corresponding process and infrastructure changes at sorting facilities.”

Jim Bligh, Director of Corporate Affairs and Packaging said: “Over the last two years, we’ve raised our concerns directly that this proposed scheme doesn’t replicate best practice when compared globally and is more closely aligned to tax raising schemes in countries like Russia and Hungary.

“Defra must take on board the recommendations of the committee to work closely with all stakeholders to design a world leading scheme that delivers a true circular economy, which means that recycled food packaging is used again for the same purpose and not sent to landfill or incinerated.”

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