Government scraps 'seven bins' for 'Simpler Recycling'

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced that the government will scrap ‘plans for households to have seven recycling bins’ during a press conference on net zero. Such a policy has never been announced by Defra, despite speculation by major media outlets.

Rishi Sunak Defra Seven BinsDefra has indicated that plans are still in place to introduce Consistency in Recycling in England – under the new name 'Simpler Recycling'. Though doubts about the timeline for this remain, Therese Coffey has said that the system will be 'outlined shortly'. 

The announcement was made by Sunak today (20 September) after rumours started circulating that several net zero policies would be delayed – particularly around diesel vehicles and heat pumps.

The government says it is still committed to reaching net zero by 2050 – but in a ‘more proportionate way’.

Britain missed the 2020 50 per cent recycling rate target set by Defra and is on course to miss the 55 per cent target by 2025, as well as the 65 per cent target by 2030.

According to modelling by DS Smith, the UK is also on course to miss its long-term recycling target by up to 13 years. 

Response from industry on scrapping of 'seven bins'

The industry has largely reacted negatively to the news. John Scanlon, Chief Executive Officer for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said: “Having spent the best part of half a decade working with government and our partners across the value chain to reform the UK’s waste and resources policy since the launch of the Resources and Waste Strategy for England, it was disappointing to hear that work reduced to a media soundbite and dismissed by the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon.

“Scaremongering suggesting all households regardless of size and location would be forced to sort their recycling into the same seven bins needed to be countered with leadership and vision.

“Reforms to recycling collections aren’t about bins, they are about simplifying recycling so that wherever you live in the UK, you can recycle the same core set of materials in a way that is appropriate for your local area. Most UK households already recycle, it’s about helping them to recycle more and better, in that sense it’s one of the more straightforward changes needed on our net zero journey.

“Targets without credible delivery plans amount to little more than empty promises, and yet we find ourselves with longstanding targets for recycling, reducing waste and a deadline looming to get biodegradable waste out of landfill, and still no clear roadmap for meeting these targets.

“We need policy certainty to commit investment in the infrastructure and services that are essential to meeting environmental targets. I hope that the only thing to be consigned to the scrap heap yesterday was the fabled seven different bin proposal and we can now get on with the urgent business of reforming the UK’s waste and resources sector – a resource efficient economy is a resilient and thriving economy.”

Speaking ahead of the announcement, Tom Giddings, executive director of Alupro – the aluminium packaging recycling organisation, commented: “We’re furious to learn about the government’s unapologetic failure to commit to its own net zero policies.”

Many in the industry have also emphasised the ‘fabled’ nature of the ‘seven bins policy’, with CIWM Policy and External Affairs Director, Lee Marshall, noting: “It is probably a first to have a Prime Minister scrap a policy that hasn’t been implemented and was never proposed in the first place. We have since received confirmation from Defra that the policy is still progressing but is now badged as ‘Simpler Recycling’, a name change that is not needed and has the potential to cause further confusion.

“We have gone through two detailed and lengthy consultations and CIWM members have sat on numerous working groups to help Defra ensure these policy reforms were informed, insight-led and evidence-based. It feels as if this valuable knowledge has been ridden roughshod over by No.10 and we very much hope this is not the case. Now more than ever the sector can support Government in delivering these vital resource and waste policy reforms and our insights should be valued.”

Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association, Jacob Hayler, added: “The Prime Minister has today emphatically scrapped a policy that never existed by removing the requirement that householders each have seven bins under the Government’s recycling reforms.

“This has never been a requirement under the Conservative’s Resources and Waste Strategy and, in practice, as is the case now, individual councils will largely determine their own infrastructure needs based on their individual constraints and opportunities.

“Far from being burdensome, the recycling reforms, which have been widely supported by industry since they were announced five years ago, are about making recycling easier for consumers by introducing a nationally consistent range of recycling services that support clearer recycling labelling on packaging. These reforms will also unlock more than ten billion pounds worth of investment from the recycling sector in new green infrastructure, services and associated jobs – but the more floundering and backtracking we see from the government, the longer that investment in the UK is delayed.”

Politicians on all sides of the spectrum have criticised Sunak’s decision to rollback net zero policies, including Speaker Lindsey Hoyle whose office said that this is ‘not the way to do business’ and that ‘ministers are answerable to MPs – we do not have a presidential system here’.

Consistency legislation

The government held its second consultation on ‘Consistency in Household and Business Recycling in England’ between 7 May 2021 and 4 July 2021. It collected responses to a series of proposals designed to increase consistency in recycling across England as mandated by the Resources and Waste Strategy 2018.

The consultation response was expected in early 2023 and was last delayed until after the May local elections.