Defra consults on Waste Prevention Programme


The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has today (6 August) opened a consultation on the ‘proposed vision, priorities, metrics and roles which aim to reduce the amount of waste produced across the economy’ in the upcoming Waste Prevention Programme (WPP) for England.

Based on responses to the Call for Evidence issued earlier this year, the ‘Consultation on the Waste Prevention Programme for England’ seeks views from ‘individuals and organisations that have an interest in greater resource efficiency, reducing the amount of waste being produced across the economy and reusing waste when it arises’. According to Defra, the results of the consultation will be used to ‘inform’ the final programme, which will be published along with a summary of evidence by ‘the end of 2013’.

WPP background

Under the European Union’s revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD), all member states much establish a WPP before 12 December 2013.

According to Defra, the programme for England aims to protect the environment and human health by ‘preventing or reducing the adverse impacts of the generation and management of waste, by reducing overall impacts of resource use and improving the efficiency of such use’. 

Resource Management Minister Lord de Mauley said: "Reducing waste is everyone’s responsibility. What we have set out in this programme will help businesses to save money, help people cut back on waste and pass on items that they would otherwise throw away. This consultation is an opportunity to comment on our suggestions on how this can be achieved so that we can protect the environment and help boost the economy."

WPP details

According to government, by implementing ‘simple measures’ to produce less waste, UK businesses could save around £17 billion and avoid greenhouse gas emissions of 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) annually (three per cent of UK emissions). 

The consultation document reads: ‘Preventing excess waste from arising delivers environmental, economic and social benefits, and is key to moving towards a more sustainable economy. Hence, action to reduce waste arisings and increase resource efficiency should be a priority for all sectors of the economy. 

‘This consultation sets out the role for government and other organisations over the short, medium and longer term which together will move us towards reducing waste.’ 

Defra has said whilst action is needed to reduce ‘any type of waste’ the Call for Evidence identified several ‘priority areas’ for waste prevention or reuse activity. 

These are: 

  • Food;
  • Textiles;
  • Paper and card;
  • Plastics;
  • Electronic and electrical equipment (EEE); and
  • ‘other’ reuse items, such as furniture. 

According to the government, these areas were identified using ‘a number of criteria’, including: tonnage of waste produced, the carbon impact of waste, the hazardous nature of the waste, and impacts on resource security and public perception. 

Waste metrics 

In order to assess the WPP’s effectiveness in decoupling waste arisings from environmental impact (by comparing waste produced against economic activity), Defra is proposing measuring household waste arisings in million tonnes (Mt) ‘per unit household final consumption expenditure’, and for commercial and industrial (C&I) waste, million tonnes (Mt) ‘per unit Gross Value Added (GVA)’. 

Defra has said though it recognises that these metrics ‘have weaknesses’ such as having a bias toward heavier materials, they have the benefit of being ‘scaleable’. It added that it proposes measuring tonnages against a 2009 baseline, as this is the most recent year for which ‘complete’ data is available.

The consultation also suggests local authorities and businesses develop a ‘suite of metrics’ that can be used to assess the impact of their own actions and serve to ‘improve the current data on waste arisings, and to allow benchmarking of good practice within sectors’.

It has not yet been announced whether the EU will require waste prevention targets (an announcement is expected in ‘spring 2014’), but Defra has said that it considers ‘targets can have unexpected and undesirable consequences’.

Government actions

Defra has outlined that government will ‘lead by example’ and will:

  • deliver a reduction in the amount of waste generated by 25 per cent from a 2009/10 baseline by 2015 as part of the Greening Government Commitment;
  • ‘ensure’ redundant Information and Communications Technology (ICT) equipment is reused (within government, the public sector or wider society) or ‘responsibly recycled’; 
  • develop Government Buying Standards (GBS) for a number of commonly procured items including construction, furniture, ICT, which will set a minimum standard within each GBS. These will include reusing existing assets as a ‘default option’, limiting hazardousness of materials used, reducing quantities of materials used, and ‘recognising the benefits of recyclability, upgradability and reparability’; and
  • see all central Government departments support the Hospitality and Food Services Voluntary Agreements for food waste and produce implementation plans on reducing food waste.

Business actions

The consultation outlines that businesses should undertake work to assess their own practices, and the ‘practical steps they can take to make those practices more efficient’.

Actions suggested include:

  • undertaking waste audits;
  • supporting resource efficient design and construction through Building Information Modelling;
  • optimising packaging to reduce food waste and improve recyclability to help consumers and local authorities;
  • exploring sustainable business models and product design;
  • utilising the concept of collaborative consumption to make effective use of resources; and
  • increasing consumer confidence from information on expected product lifetime.

Defra has also identified an ‘opportunity’ for waste management companies to provide customers on how to reduce waste.

Despite Defra cutting WRAP’s budget by 40 per cent by 2015/16, the advisory body features heavily in the government’s work to support waste prevention changes. For example, the consultation reveals that WRAP is developing a standard for Facilities Management services, which includes guidance on mobile asset management to ‘make the most efficient use of assets’, and are piloting model procurement specifications for resource-efficient service provision.

Local authority actions

The consultation document outlines that local authorities (LAs) can play a ‘key role’ in reducing waste in their local area, by ‘providing leadership through their own business practices as well in the information and services they provide to their customers’. As such, local authorities are ‘strongly encouraged’ to develop local waste prevention plans. 

Defra has said that it has supported the development of a Waste Prevention and Carbon Tool for local authorities to help demonstrate the costs and benefits of waste prevention initiatives and will consider setting up regular forum with local authorities to share best practice. 

Other actions outlined in the consultation include: 

  • encouraging local authorities to ‘reap the financial benefits of waste prevention’ by setting up partnerships between Waste Collection and Waste Disposal Authorities;
  • working with local schools and higher education colleges to encourage training on repair skills, and ‘raise awareness of the importance of waste prevention from an early age’;
  • linking information on waste prevention services to key life events, such as highlighting reuse services when moving home; and
  • working in partnership with waste management contractors, local reuse organisations and others to ensure working goods put out for recycling are collected (whether at kerbside or at an HWRC) and passed onto those who can ‘assess, repair and resell them’. 

Waste Prevention Plan is 'weak'

Reaction to the WPP proposals has been largely sceptical from the reuse and waste and resources industries, with the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM) saying that the draft plan fails to "deliver the necessary shift away from narrow waste-focused thinking to a broader vision encompassing resource efficiency and circular economics" and has a "a complete absence of any concrete and measurable objectives and actions, far too little on data and the range of metrics needed to measure genuine prevention, and no innovative thinking on policy mechanisms to drive behaviour change".

CIWM Chief Executive Steve Lee said: “Early discussions on this plan explored ambitious concepts including the role of green taxation, product policy and standards, Producer Responsibility, and resource security. It is therefore disappointing to see that these important issues and mechanisms, that could go some way to delivering the objectives of Article 1 of the Waste Framework Directive (WFD), have been left by the wayside.

“Our sector is under no illusion regarding the complexity of delivering genuine waste prevention and we are pleased to note that the plan does signpost the good work that has been done to date in this country. However, there is so much more to achieve that the degree of intervention and co-ordination that can only come from Government will be needed. The draft plan suggests that the Government has not grasped the scale and urgency of this challenge."

Lee added that CIWM believes government may "struggle to convince the Commission that the draft plan will satisfy the requirements of Article 29 of the WFD, being short on clear objectives and failing to include an evaluation of the range of possible measures set out in the WFD or any others".

Close to a 'Back to the Nineties' approach

Ray Georgeson, Chief Executive of the trade body the Resource Association added that the plan was 'underwhelming and predicatable'. He said: "It is such a shame, as yet again we miss a great opportunity to be ambitious in our approach to waste and resources. As with other documents and messages coming out of government such as the Waste Management Plan for England, the EU Balance of Competences review and the Defra approach to EU Recycling Targets what we see is the resistance to stretching yet realistic target setting, the ambivalence about European ambitions for and approaches to resource security, and the light touch deregulatory model all running the risk of undoing much of the progress on waste and resources in recent years. 

"It’s not just that recycling rates are starting to flatline, we are close to a ‘Back to the Nineties’ approach to waste and resources targets and legislation – it sends all the wrong signals to those willing to invest in what is an industry for the future.”

The Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) has also voiced 'disappointment' with the strategy, with FRN Chief Executive Craig Anderson saying: “The content of this consultation gives the reuse sector little hope for strategic or practical interventions by the government to support and build opportunities for a more holistic approach to resource management and product stewardship. We need objectives and actions based on the sector’s work to date, but there is a complete absence of any such mechanisms and sadly only more emphasis being placed on soft-touch concepts, metrics and data.

“Much of the government’s work with the reuse sector to date has been to research evidence of what the sector does and what barriers there may be to its growth. But this consultation shows little evidence of that learning and more pointedly shows little evidence of how the government is going to set in a place a programme of activity to satisfy the requirements the European Commission’s Waste Framework Directive."

FRN said it 'did not want to witness the continual light touch and misguided dalliances into reuse and waste prevention' and argued that government is 'putting more emphasis on the fact that it wants to be confident that others will do the job for them with little direction or support'. 

The devolved governments are reportedly developing their own Waste Prevention Programmes, which will be published separately.

The consultation is open until 23 September.  

Read more about the ‘Consultation on the Waste Prevention Programme for England’ or about National Waste Prevention Programmes.