Government could push ahead with free garden waste collections, says Eustice

Garden waste collections may be made free by the passing of the Environment Bill, says Environment Secretary George Eustice.

George Eustice

Speaking today (18 June) before the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) in a one-off virtual session on Parliament TV, the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) gave an update on the government's plans post-Brexit and the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Environment Bill has passed its second reading and is awaiting its entry into the committee stage. Eustice acknowledged that the “coronavirus has caused a lot of disruption to the parliamentary timetable,” meaning the Bill will more likely return to the committee for September rather than before the parliamentary summer recess.

He stated that the Bill is a “big moment of change”, an “opportunity to do things differently” and ''better” than the current EU environmental governance structures ahead of Britain’s planned exit later this year.

Responding to Feryal Clark, Labour MP for Enfield North, on how the government will address declining recycling rates in England, Eustice said that “certain challenges” arose due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with Recycling and waste services experiencing severe disruption.

One such challenge that Eustice stated would negatively impact recycling rates was the fact that certain local authorities (LAs) stopped collecting garden waste.

He suggested that garden waste collections could become free of charge due to “inconsistent outcomes” produced by charged for services. LAs have expressed concern about proposals to make all garden waste services free, with the government recently responding to a report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee stating that free garden waste collections were the “best approach”.

Regarding LA powers, Clark asked what plans the government has to give English LAs powers regarding recycling, reflecting on Scotland and Wales where a ‘carrot and stick’ has led to steady improvements in recycling rates.

“There is an inconsistency of approach that obviously leads to an inconsistency of outcomes,” Eustice replied, referring to the “mixed approach” of LAs in charging for garden and green waste collections.

The Bill sets out to “bring greater consistency and clarity to the approach taken by LAs in this area,” Eustice commented, adding these “[government] specific powers are subject to consultation”.

“More improvements to be made”

Eustice stated that whilst the government is making “progress” on recycling, there are “more improvements to be made”. Eustice reiterated that mechanisms such as extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging and a deposit return scheme (DRS) for single-use drinks containers are “key to really taking recycling to the next level”, adding that they will be driven by the “provision and the powers” that are created for them within the Environment Bill.

Furthermore, he told MPs the Treasury is looking to build on the “success” of the five pence charge on single-use plastic bags and is considering further taxation on single-use plastics.

The government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and the Resources and Waste Strategy made tackling single-use waste a priority, though focus has been placed on recycling rather than reuse, and a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds has been approved but will not enter into force until September 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eustice also drew attention to the uptake of single-use plastics during the pandemic due to concerns surrounding hygiene. He said: “Everybody had got very good at not having single-use plastics but concerns about Covid-19 meant people may have reverted back to disposable packaging.”

You can view the video of the EAC’s session with Eustice on Parliament TV.