Resource Use

Defra opens consultation on standardising recycling collection across England

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has launched its second consultation on consistent waste collections (7 May), which is seeking public opinion on plans to offer consistent recycling services across England.

bin collection serviceIt asks respondents to consider what materials should be collected as part of the dry recyclable waste stream and what should be exempt, as well as what statutory guidance should be provided for local authorities and appropriate transition timelines for local authorities and businesses.

Commenting on the Government’s proposals, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Householders want more frequent recycling collections. Regular food and garden waste collections will ensure that they can get rid of their rubbish faster, at no additional cost to them. Our proposals will boost recycling rates, and ensure that less rubbish is condemned to landfill.”

The aspiration is that increasing consistency in recycling will reduce confusion in the material that is collected for kerbside recycling, which will help to increase recycling rates with the aim of achieving a 65 per cent target by 2035.

Having previously consulted on the matter, this latest round considers expanding the range of materials collected, notably packaging items currently not picked up at kerbside by many councils such as cartons, aluminium foils and tubes, and perhaps most contentiously plastic films. In the case of films, Defra is proposing that the introduction of this service offering will not be mandated before 2016/27. It is anticipated that films will be particularly problematic for the mechanical sorting process in material recycling facilities (MRFs).

Defra is proposing that full net costs of collecting packaging materials, including the expanded range of materials, will be covered through a revised Extended Producer Responsibility scheme, currently scheduled to be introduced in 2013/24.

The consultation also asks for opinions on the introduction of free garden waste collections paid for by local authorities, purportedly saving households £100 million in separate taxes. However, critics have pointed out that this cost may be absorbed into the council tax bill, spreading the cost to households that do not have gardens.

Arguably the most totemic proposal concerns the introduction of separate food waste collection from households, notably to include flats and other dwellings that to date many local authorities have not included for this service. While there is a headline date of 2023/24 for achieving this, the consultation recognises that for many councils there will be contracts that extend beyond this date. Notably, those that have commitments to provide material for residual waste management, such as mechanical biological treatment or energy from waste.

The consultation seeks to - broadly speaking - harmonise the requirements placed on collection of recyclable material from business, such that these will be aligned with the requirements that are placed on households from 2023/24.

The consistent collection consultation is the latest in a string relating to adjacent policy proposals on waste collection and packaging reforms, that have been set out in the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy.

In March, a second round of consultations for a proposed Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging was launched, which is expected to see packaging firms cover the net cost of packaging waste, alongside a consultation on plans for a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers across England and Wales. Both consultations will be open for responses until June 4.

The consistent collections consultation is open until July 4, meaning the consultation period will be shorter than the typical 12 weeks set out in the Government code of practice, after it had previously been delayed from an April start date.

Despite frustrations at the delay and length of the consistent collection consultation, industry leaders in the waste management sector have welcomed its launch.

Robbie Staniforth, Head of Innovation and Policy at Ecosurety commented: “We are relieved that the consultation has finally been launched today.

“The delay was unfortunate, but we can now get down to the task of analysing the impact of these changes to how citizens will interact with packaging.

“But of course, this consultation also covers many other important resource issues, like food waste collections. Resource managers have a significant challenge on their hands to prioritise packaging ahead of the 4th June deadline and then look more broadly at proposals thereafter.”

LARAC Chair Carole Taylor added: “There is a lot of frustration about the short period for this consultation. We would urge Defra to review this immediately and reinstate a full 12-week consultation period, as government consultation guidance recommends.

“Regardless of the timescale I would urge all local authorities to take the time to properly consider this hugely important consultation and respond meaningfully to them.

“The outputs from this consultation will shape local authority waste services for the next twenty years and so we need to get them right.”

John Scanlon, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK concluded: “We now have to focus on getting right the cumulative outcome of all three consultations – consistency of collections, deposit return schemes and extended producer responsibility – to ensure manufacturers, local authorities and service providers can deliver coherent, well-designed systemic change.”