Defra outlines plans for monitoring resources policy

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has released two policy papers on monitoring and evaluation of the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy for England.

The two documents, entitled ‘Resources and waste strategy: monitoring progress’ and ‘Resources and waste strategy: evaluation plan’, were published last Friday (11 August), and cover progress regarding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, waste production, recycling and landfilling between 2010 and 2018 in England.

The monitoring report also proposes a range of outcome-based metrics for measuring progress that go beyond traditional weight-based metrics, including those that focus on carbon.

Defra sign on the departmental government building.The Resources and Waste Strategy was launched after several delays in December 2018, with the first round of consultations taking place in early 2019. The second round of consultations have been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and are expected to take place in 2021.

The policy papers lay out the indicator framework for monitoring progress on the Resources and Waste Strategy, though monitoring will also measure progress towards the aims of the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Clean Growth Strategy, the Industrial Strategy and the Litter Strategy.

The ‘Monitoring progress’ report, outlines Defra’s overall strategic ambitions, including:

  • At least double resource productivity by 2050;
  • Zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042;
  • Zero avoidable waste by 2050; and
  • Work towards eliminating food and biodegradable waste to landfill by 2030.

Other targets include the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3’s target of halving per capita food waste by 2030 and those proposed by the EU’s Circular Economy Package (CEP), which is set to be enshrined in UK law, such as recycling 65 per cent of municipal waste by 2035, reducing landfill to a maximum of 10 per cent by 2035 and recycling 70 per cent of packaging waste by 2030.

To achieve these targets and other environmental aims, Defra has proposed a number of new methodologies and metrics that go beyond traditional weight-based approaches. Defra is ‘currently developing a formal methodology for producing a best estimate of municipal waste recycled’, while methodologies for measuring the carbon footprint of consumer goods and levels of avoidable waste and plastic waste are also in development.

In terms of metrics, Defra says that it is exploring further development of the use of carbon, natural capital and social impact-based metrics for measuring the impact of resource use and waste production in England.

This has been welcomed by the resources and waste sector, which has seen calls for carbon metrics in particular when measuring the impacts of waste management and setting targets for some time. Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) Jacob Hayler said: “ESA members have long suggested a move away from weight-based metrics to assess the performance of our sector, for the reasons Defra identifies, so we are pleased to see a wider range of outcome-based measures under consideration, particularly around carbon.”

Meanwhile, Adam Read, External Affairs Director at SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK, said: “It was good to see the wide range of metrics being used to monitor progress, which helps support the long-held view that moving away from tonnage-based metrics is an important step in delivering on the circular economy and the Resources and Waste Strategy. Some of these outcome-based metrics will be key in the short-term transition, while others provide clarity about the longer-term measurements framework and indicators, so this is a positive step forward.”

Little emphasis on progress

Defra’s monitoring and evaluation policy papers bring together data from 2010-2018 – as well as some data from before this period – providing a comprehensive overview of England’s resources and waste statistics for that period.

Between 1990 and 2018, GHG emissions from waste management have fallen by 69.4 per cent to 16.9 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (CO2e), while overall raw material consumption has increased by 15.8 per cent between 2001 and 2017 to 815.4 million tonnes.

In terms of waste production, all waste categories increased by 11.5 per cent overall between 2010 and 2016, with construction, demolition and excavation increasing by 18.4 per cent, commercial and industrial increasing by 16.3 per cent and waste from households remaining fairly constant.

In terms of recycling rates, England’s ‘Waste from Households’ recycling rate increased from 41.2 per cent in 2010 to 44.8 per cent in 2014, but has stayed largely flat and was 44.7 per cent in 2018.

The policy papers also outline Defra’s ambition to move waste up the waste hierarchy, by preventing ‘avoidable waste’ from entering the residual waste stream and recycling more. Defra acknowledges that quantifying avoidable waste is ‘challenging’ as it is subject to varying interpretations, but has identified four categories through studying existing waste composition analysis from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP):

  • Readily recyclable with current technologies
  • Potentially recyclable with technologies in development
  • Potentially substitutable to a material which could be recycled
  • Difficult to recycle or substitute

Using these categories, Defra found that 53 per cent of residual waste generated by households in England in 2017 was readily recyclable, while just eight per cent was ‘difficult to recycle or substitute’.

Despite the comprehensive nature of the data, little is provided on progress since the launch of the Resources and Waste Strategy, which has caused disappointment for some. Read added: “I was a little disappointed to see so much emphasis on the progress made from 2010 to 2018. It seems such a long time ago since the launch of the Resources and Waste Strategy and the first phase of consultations, not to mention Brexit and Covid, and it was disappointing to see there was less content related to the progress made since the launch of the strategy and the ongoing workstreams.

“It was a great opportunity to help build momentum across the sector by showing that progress was still being made, both in terms of the policy areas within the strategy and in terms of the metrics and the sector’s performance across a number of critical measures.”


Defra’s ‘Evaluation plan’, which was externally reviewed, establishes how policies included in the Resources and Waste Strategy will be evaluated, building on data collected during monitoring and ‘comprehensively assessing policies against several dimensions in addition to intended outcomes’.

The plan sets out the provisions for evaluating the impact of government policies, and to what extent success or failure are due to the strategy rather than external factors.

Five initial evaluation projects have also been identified covering: extended producer responsibility (EPR) reform; the deposit return scheme (DRS) for England; consistency in recycling collections; waste crime; and the impacts of actions on the use and waste of plastics. A further project will answer questions about what difference resources and waste policy has made over and above what would have happened anyway, to help Defra understand questions around causality and contribution of policy.

Praising the government’s laying out of how it intends to monitor progress, Libby Peake, Head of Resource Policy at Green Alliance, said: “This monitoring and evaluation must now be met with equally ambitious policymaking to move from a focus on end of life solutions to one that improves resource throughout the economy. Notably, the five initial evaluation projects – on producer responsibility for packaging; a deposit return scheme for drinks containers; consistent recycling; and tackling waste crime – are all still predominantly aimed at end of life solutions.

“As the UK sets out plans for its new Office for Environmental Protection, data collection and quality must be improved and used well to ensure we do more than monitor progress (or its reversal): an effective system will be based on transparent, consistent and prompt reporting of environmental measures and the ability of an adequately resourced and independent regulator to hold the government to account.”

You can view Defra’s policy papers on monitoring and evaluation of the Resources and Waste Strategy on the government website.

Related Articles