UK government announces “simpler recycling” waste reforms


The UK government has today (21 October) announced long-awaited reforms to household and business bin collections as well as a crackdown on “unscrupulous waste carriers”.

The government hopes the reforms will boost recycling stagnating rates and protect the environment.

This “simpler, common-sense approach” to recycling means people across England will be able to recycle the same materials, whether at home, work or school, putting an end to “confusion” over what can and can’t be recycled in different parts of the country, the government says.

Weekly collections of food waste will also be introduced for most households across England by 2026, a move that will cut the amount of food sent to landfill while halting the trend towards three- or four-weekly bin collections seen in some local authorities across the UK, particularly in Wales, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says.

The government’s proposal will also include an expectation that residual waste is collected at least fortnightly. Government said it will also work with local authorities to assess the collection of residual waste more frequently, especially in urban areas. 

The government is also proposing new exemptions to make sure that waste collectors will be able to collect dry recyclables together, in the same bin or bag, and collect organic waste together, to reduce the number of bins required.

Simpler Recycling

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said: “Simpler recycling will help us all recycle more easily, doing our bit to help save the planet and make the best use of precious resources that we use every day.

“Alongside weekly food waste collections, we are ending the postcode lottery of what you can put in your bin so that wherever you live in the country, you will be able to recycle the same products with confidence.”

The reforms set out to bring in a more “convenient and practical system” which prevents councils from being hit with “extra complexity”, while making sure all local authorities collect the required recyclable waste streams: glass; metal; plastic; paper and card; food waste; and garden waste.

Our ambitious plans will help every household, business, school and hospital in the country to recycle more.

Defra says this means manufacturers can design packaging and know it can be recycled across the nation, ensuring there is more recycled material in the products we buy and allowing the UK recycling industry to grow.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Our ambitious plans will help every household, business, school and hospital in the country to recycle more.

“We have listened to councils and come up with a system that will increase recycling in a way that does not clutter our pavements with numerous bins and smelly food waste collections for weeks, making recycling simpler and more effective.

“This will help us to make the most of our finite and precious resources, while reducing carbon emissions and protecting our precious environment from harmful waste.”

Waste Tracking

Plastic recycling

The plans will apply to all homes in England, including flats. Similar measures will apply to non-household municipal premises, including businesses, hospitals, schools and universities.

In addition to these measures, the Government will continue to drive forward efforts to make waste collections simpler across the country by launching a four-week consultation on expanding the definition of non-household municipal premises – so that places of worship, prisons, charity shops and residential hostels could also be covered by the rules.

These plans will be supported by a major new effort to clamp down on “untrustworthy waste operators” and ensure that waste ends up where it’s supposed to.

This includes increasing background checks for firms who move or trade waste, to make it harder for rogue operators to find work and easier for regulators to act against criminals.

Plans to overhaul the current system for tracking how waste is handled will also set out to improve the way data is currently collected, strengthening regulators’ abilities to detect waste crime through a new system for digital waste tracking which will record information from the point it is produced to the point it is disposed of – giving them the evidence they need to hold criminals to account, Defra says.

“Only goes so far”

Paul Vanston, Chief Executive of the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN), said the announcement moves us “several steps closer to turbo boosting the country’s packaging recycling rates on metals, paper and card, glass, hard and soft plastics and cartons”.

He said: “INCPEN’s recent citizens surveys show there is huge public support for the idea of clear, unambiguous recycling instructions on packaging that match-up with what can be put into household recycling bins wherever citizens live across the whole country.”

Margaret Bates, Managing Director at On-Pack Recycling Label Ltd (OPRL), said the announcement is a prompt and clear message that will make planning and operations more efficient for local authorities, packaging producers, brands and waste managers.

Gavin Graveson, Senior Executive Vice President Northern Europe Zone at Veolia, said: “We now need to quicken the pace of UK recycling rates by ensuring that packaging is designed to be reused, repaired or recycled.”

The extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for packaging will be critical for increasing the supply of recyclable materials to consumers by incentivising packaging innovation

On the announcement that Defra will overhaul the current system for tracking waste, the Environment Agency’s Steve Molyneux said the Agency is “determined to keep one step ahead of the criminals”.

He said: “Inappropriately managed waste can have a terrible impact on local communities and nature and undermines investment in the UK by responsible businesses. That’s why we are working to stop waste crime, which is estimated to cost the economy in England £1 billion per year.

“Reforming the licensing system for carriers, brokers and dealers and introducing mandatory UK-wide digital waste tracking will support people to do the right thing by disposing of their waste correctly.”

Kitty Thompson, Conservative Environment Network’s Nature Programme Manager, said while the reforms will make our recycling system easier for families to understand and easier to use, “they will only go so far”.

“The extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for packaging will be critical for increasing the supply of recyclable materials to consumers by incentivising packaging innovation.

“Unfortunately, EPR has faced a multitude of delays and setbacks leaving industry frustrated and without the confidence to act. As a matter of urgency, Defra should provide businesses with details of the modulated fees they will be subjected to under EPR.”

“Long overdue”

The Chartered Institution for Wastes Management (CIWM) welcomed the announcement, calling it “a relief” that the sector finally has the details needed to enable the it to “move forward”.

CIWM said it believes the proposal for a national level assessment that would enable the widest range of collection methods to be used, rather than a local assessment process on a case-by-case basis, is a “pragmatic and sensible approach”.

Lee Marshall, CIWM Policy & External Affairs Director, said: “We have been waiting for this announcement for what feels like an age, so it is great that we now have the details. The flexibility around collection systems appears to be a sensible way forward and I am sure local authorities will be pleased with that approach.

“The deadlines for implementation, especially for film, remain challenging given the delays we have had, and there will be concern about procurement bottlenecks that these relatively short deadlines may cause.

Overall, we view this announcement as a very positive, albeit long overdue step forward

“The proposal to restrict residual frequency to a maximum of fortnightly is, however, unwelcome, as there are numerous examples of how this helps increase recycling and makes collections more cost effective.”

CIWM said it was somewhat “surprised” that the implementation date for business collections is ahead of the implementation date for households given that the payment details for these collections have yet to be agreed.

It also has concerns about the timescales involved for all local authorities to undertake what are potentially significant service changes, and for the private sector to bid into the relevant contracts.

CIWM also raised questions on the arrangements for the consultation on the statutory guidance that local authorities will need to follow for “Simpler Recycling” and believes it should be open to all within the industry to respond to.

“Overall, we view this announcement as a very positive, albeit long overdue step forward,” CIWM said.

“It gives the sector reassurance that Defra is serious about delivering the reforms that were outlined in the Resources and Waste Strategy and that will help us achieve our purpose of a world beyond waste.”

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