ESA Annual Report criticises waste reform delays

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) is calling for urgency in the implementation of Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy. In the foreword to the ESA’s annual report, Chairman Gavin Graveson blames ‘political upheaval’ for the delay in implementing the waste reforms – which he said ‘will eventually shape our sector over the next ten years and beyond’.

Defra signHe notes that in 2022, Westminster changed Prime Ministers three times, Chancellors four times, Defra Secretaries of State three times and Resources and Waste ministers four times. Half a decade has passed since the original announcement of the Resources and Waste Strategy in 2018.

Despite the delay, Graveson says the reforms still have the support of the ESA and many other organisations operating across the circular economy.

He added: “2023 must now be the year that these complex policy instruments come together in their final form so that we can help deliver their implementation.

“We believe the [Resources and Waste Strategy] will drive major investment in new infrastructure whilst improving recycling performance and contributing towards the UK’s climate change targets and obligations. It, therefore, offers multiple positive outcomes, with minimal impact on the consumer if executed efficiently.”

Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the ESA, added in his ​​Executive Director Overview: “With lingering uncertainty over these reforms, operators across the industry have had little choice but to exercise caution over major investment and strategic decisions during the past five years.

“As the pertinent details about the reforms now begin to emerge from Defra, timescales to implement the infrastructure changes needed to deliver the RWS in practice have become quite challenging.

Hayler highlights that an ESA member survey conducted in 2022 found that changes to Material Recycling Facilities (MRFs) necessary to meet the requirements of the Resources and Waste Strategy range from minor upgrades to total re-builds and that some individual facilities could be closed for up to a year during this process – with the full upgrade programme taking up to five years to complete with commissioning.

“This picture has not changed”

In April 2022, during an ESA webinar, Graveson and the Environment Agency’s (EA) outgoing CEO, Sir James Bevan, acknowledged that the regulator suffered from a lack of enforcement resources.

Graveson notes in his foreword that ‘this picture has not changed’ and that it is mirrored in the EA’s permitting system, where a lack of capacity in this vital function is severely hindering essential infrastructure projects and constraining the ability of ESA members to operate effectively and efficiently.

Bevan will step down on 31 March this year and Graveson states that it is essential that the incoming CEO – who is yet to be announced – address the performance failures in the EA’s core functions.

The Resources and Waste Strategy

The Resources and Waste Strategy was released by Defra in 2018 and was the first significant government policy document in the sector since the 2011 Waste Review and the 2013 Waste Prevention Programme for England.

It included plans to introduce separate food waste collections for every household in England by 2023 and to ensure producers pay for managing their waste packaging through extended producer responsibility (EPR) and a deposit return scheme (DRS).

Mandatory food waste collections are still expected for 2023, although currently only approximately 50 per cent of local authorities in England offer a source-segregated household food waste recycling service. Several trials are running across the nation to determine possible approaches for the mandate.

Local authorities are still waiting for the Government's clarity on available funding and the forthcoming consistency legislation.

DRS is moving ahead in Scotland on 16 August 2023 and implementation is expected for England, Wales and Northern Ireland on 1 October 2025. In January 2023, Defra confirmed the details of the DRS. At the time of this announcement, Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, called the 2025 implementation date ‘disappointing’ given the amount of time ‘the Government has spent pondering the issue’.

EPR delays are having a ‘high cost’ burden’ on local authorities, the reforms are now delayed until 2024. On 23 November Defra released a Statutory Instrument in parliament which details the process of collecting and submitting data for businesses included in EPR. Packaging producers in England will be required to begin data collection from March 2023.

Hayler commented in his overview: “Producers obligated under the new Extended
Producer Responsibility (EPR) regime are expected to start reporting in 2023 for implementation from 2024, when the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) will also be introduced, but if the infrastructure does not exist to support the regime it will be hamstrung from the outset.”

ESA Annual Report

The Annual Report highlights four priorities for ESA going forward. In order of priority, they include:

  1. To pursue ever higher standards;
  2. To make upstream interventions to design out waste;
  3. To deliver greater recycling performance;
  4. And to decarbonise the sector.

The Annual Report also notes the work being done around regulation, such as the treatment of waste domestic seating containing POPs, and includes the first set of consolidated carbon reporting among the ESA membership.