Government must allow councils flexibility to achieve recycling targets

If targets in the Resources and Waste strategy are to be met, the government must provide adequate funding and allow local authorities to develop recycling strategies and collection systems that are appropriate for their communities, says the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee.

The recommendations came in a letter sent by the Committee on Tuesday (16 July) to Rishi Sunak MP, Minister for Local Government, following the conclusion of the Committee’s inquiry into the implications of the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy for local authorities.

Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee Chair, Clive Betts MP
Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee Chair, Clive Betts MP
The inquiry particularly focused on the implications of the Strategy’s proposals for household waste and recycling collections. Government proposals on consistency of household collections include determining a core set of dry recyclable materials to be separately collected from the kerbside in at least four containers, with residual waste collections happening at least every two weeks, while weekly separate food waste collections and free garden waste collections should also be implemented.

While acknowledging that it is ‘important to improve recycling rates’ and achieve ‘greater consistency in what is collected by local authorities’, the letter states that there is an ‘important distinction between what is collected and how it is collected’, accusing the government of trying to ‘dictate from the centre that which would be better determined by local decision makers’.

The HCLG Committee, which heard evidence from local authorities and the Resources Minister Therese Coffey over the course of its inquiry, recommends that local authorities should retain flexibility over how they collect recyclables and that it should be up to councils to decide how frequently they collect residual waste, suggesting support for less frequent residual waste collections as a means to further increase recycling rates.

The Committee also recommends against mandating the implementation of weekly separate food waste collections and that councils should retain the right to charge for garden waste collections.

Sufficient funding essential

The Committee further states that the government needed to clarify how it would provide additional funding support for local authorities to implement the proposed policies, both for upfront transition costs and ongoing operational costs, as ‘there is deep scepticism from local authorities that sufficient funding will be provided’. Estimates from the government suggest that between £180 million and £260 million will need to be invested to roll out separate food waste collections across England, but it is as yet unclear how this will be funded.

Where the implementation of government proposals will require the renegotiation of long-term collections contracts with waste management companies, the Committee recommends that contractors should cover the costs of contract amendments, and that the government should cover these costs where they cannot be agreed with contractors.

“Local authorities cannot be expected to shoulder further burden without extra resourcing.”

The government should also, according to the letter, cover costs passed onto authorities through more expensive contracts, where investment in new infrastructure is required to meet the government’s recycling ambitions; according to the Committee these costs could potentially be up to £20 million.

While welcoming the government’s proposals on an extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging, the letter states that it is ‘important that the EPR scheme provides a reliable, long-term source of funding for council services’ and calls for the government to provide ‘top-up funding to local authorities’ if the level of funding passed to councils through EPR is deemed insufficient, with a review to be undertaken every two years.

Regarding a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers – Secretary of State Michael Gove and Resources Minister Therese Coffey both gave their backing to an ‘all-in’ system this week – the Committee stated the government should defer the implementation as it could ‘add further complexity and uncertainty into the system’, with local authorities making clear their concerns regarding the financial implications of a DRS.

‘Wrong approach’ for achieving objectives

Chair of the HCLG Committee, Clive Betts MP, said: “The government has recognised the need for a comprehensive Waste Strategy with ambitious targets for improving recycling rates and reducing our impact on the environment. However, we believe that the government has set out the wrong approach for achieving these objectives.

“The government should not seek to dictate that which is best determined by local decision makers. In determining how often waste should be collected, the number of recycling bins or what services should be charged for, the government appears to have forgotten that what works in rural areas may not be suitable for cities. Local authorities understand what the challenges are in their areas and should be given the freedom to tailor their approach to meet them.

“Equally, the government must ensure that the funding is there that will allow local authorities to rise to the challenge. It will require significant investment to improve recycling infrastructure, and ongoing waste management costs arising from the government’s proposals will be higher. The government has indicated it will provide more funding, but they must demonstrate that this will be adequate in the long-term. Local authorities are already struggling, they cannot be expected to shoulder further burden without extra resourcing.”

You can read the Committee’s letter in full on the Parliament website.

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