BBIA responds to government announcement on Simpler Recycling
Responding to the Government’s announcements on Consistency, the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) has welcomed Defra’s three bins ruling, but has expressed disappointment regarding the lack of mandate for use of caddy liners in food waste collection.
Defra announced on 21 October 2023 the outcome of its consultation on Consistency in Household and Business Recycling, which ran for eight weeks beginning 7 May 2021.
According to the new regulations, all local authorities in England are mandated to gather identical recyclable waste categories from households for recycling or composting, utilising three separate bins. The recyclable waste streams include:
- Bin one: Dry recycling waste - paper and card, plastic, glass and metal
- Bin two: Food waste
- Bin three: Non-recyclable residual waste
There is also an option for a fourth bin to collect garden waste. Household collections will need to be in place by 31 March 2026.
In 2017, BBIA effectively led a coalition of associations to advocate for the implementation of a three-bin waste collection system for households, consisting of food waste, mixed recycling, and residual waste. The BBIA is pleased that Defra has adopted this approach alongside the weekly requirement for food waste collection and the potential for mixed garden and food waste collections following consultation.
BBIA COO Jen Vanderhoven commented: “We welcome most of the decisions for our sector, even though the long delay to implementation is a cause for concern.
“However, what is missing here, and what is more of a concern, is the lack of recycling targets. As we have seen from Scotland, the obligation to collect food waste does not necessarily lead to councils doing this well. Scotland collects ~55 per cent of its food waste separately despite a mandate upon councils since 2018.
“So, BBIA believes that targets are needed, or the risk is that a lot of food waste will continue to be delivered in mixed waste bins, and ultimately either ending up in landfill, or being incinerated.”
BBIA Chairman Andy Sweetman added: “Additionally, whilst we welcome the collection of food waste, we are disheartened that Defra have failed to mandate the use of caddy liners, despite 77 per cent of respondents agreeing that caddy liners should be used by a wide coalition of trade associations, including those representing anaerobic digestion (AD) operators, calling for this.
“Defra’s decision to go against the overwhelming support for caddy liners to be mandated puts into question the purpose of the consultation in the first place.”
Respondents to the consultation who are in favour of caddy liners view them as clean, safe and hygienic for both households and collection crews. However, Defra concludes ‘that further evidence is needed before publishing guidance on caddy liner use’, and that they ‘will continue to explore options that promote the best environmental outcomes in this area’.
Jen Vanderhoven responded: “BBIA will continue, as always, to champion for compostable caddy liners for food waste collection.
“As we know that food waste collected in conventional plastic bags, leads to more plastics in food waste and thence into compost and AD plants, with costs of extraction and disposal, as well as loss of food waste, extracted with the plastics. This has only one beneficiary- incinerator plants.
“Compost and AD operators struggle already with plastic contamination, and with more food waste collected with plastics they will be overwhelmed. Our precious farmlands will be increasingly polluted with plastic fragments leaching into digestate and compost. This is anything but a circular economy.”
Simpler Recycling to allow for more AD treatment
The Government’s preference is for food waste to be collected for treatment by AD, which they claim that presents the best environmental outcome for the treatment of unavoidable food waste, due to the generation of biogas and digestate.
However, the BBIA maintains that composting provides the best scenario for the environment due to concerns regarding the pollution of soils and water systems that wet AD digestate can cause.
Defra has additionally stated that compostable packaging should not be collected either separately or in food waste bins. Instead, they recommend discouraging or prohibiting the use of biodegradable and compostable materials.
There are apprehensions that the public might find the terms 'biodegradable' and 'compostable' confusing, and there is a suggestion to establish more rigorous standardisation or regulation for these terms, aligning them with disposal methods and offering guidance. Furthermore, they propose conducting further research on the real-world behaviour of these materials, beyond laboratory conditions.
However, the BBIA believes there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Defra states that they ‘encourage innovative technologies, having funded ground-breaking research and
innovation to make plastic packaging fit for a sustainable future through the £60m Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge’ and that they will ‘continue to engage with the sector as the evidence develops to inform future guidance’, something the BBIA claims it will champion moving forward.