Inquiry asks how government waste policies will affect English councils

A Parliamentary inquiry has been launched into the effects of the new Resources and Waste Strategy on English local authorities.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee will be looking into the implications of the government’s latest policy offering on waste and resources, which contains a number of proposals which will have a significant bearing on councils across England.

The Resources and Waste Strategy, published in December 2019, is the government’s first publication on waste and resources since the 2013 Waste Prevention Programme for England. Described as “bold and radical” by Marcus Gover, CEO of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the Strategy sets out plans to shape the future of the UK’s resources and waste policy for years to come.

Refuse collector emptying household food waste into lorry
Separate food waste collections for all English households are being proposed, but could be costly to implement
Key proposals to come out of the Strategy include an ambition to introduce separate food waste collections to every household in England by 2023, which would bring the country in line with its devolved neighbours, where all councils already offer some form of kerbside food waste collection scheme. A consultation on this proposal, which will close on 13 May 2019, is also asking for evidence on the idea of a consistent set of recyclable materials to be collected by all local authorities, as well as introducing free garden waste collections.

Other proposals being consulted on include a deposit return scheme (DRS) for beverage containers and reform to the UK’s extended producer responsibility (EPR) system – with the suggestion that packaging producers should pay 100 per cent of the costs of collecting and sorting their waste products. They currently pay only around 10 per cent, while the rest of the burden is shouldered by local authorities.

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How would proposals affect local authorities?

These proposals could have a significant impact on English local authorities and their already stretched budgets. While separate food waste collections have been shown to boost recycling levels – as demonstrated in Northern Ireland, where recycling rates went up by five percentage points from 2016 to 2017 after mandatory food waste collections were introduced – developing a new food waste scheme can be costly for a council without any collections already in place.

In addition, more and more councils are moving to charge for garden waste collections – recent figures from the Press Association show that around 65 per cent of councils in England are charging for the service. Asking all councils to offer these services for free could be difficult in the light of continued budget cuts: between 2015 and 2020, the Revenue Support Grant to English local authorities will have been cut by 75 per cent.

Local authorities have also long expressed their concerns about how a DRS could impact the efficiency of kerbside collections, suggesting that a DRS would divert some high-quality materials away from the kerbside, thereby losing councils money.

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) said at the publication of the Resources and Waste Strategy that it was ‘concerned’ about many of the proposals. LARAC CEO Lee Marshall said: “Defra have hinted that they want to be quite prescriptive in how local authority waste operations are carried out in the future. If the funding is not forthcoming to support this then their ambitions will not get off the ground and local authorities will be left deciding which services, be that libraries, day or leisure centres they will have to reduce to pay to meet these targets.”

In its inquiry, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee is asking for written responses on the following topics relating to the financial implications of the government’s plans:

  • What the financial implications are for local authorities of the government’s Waste Strategy;
  • What the likely effects will be on the recycling rates of local authorities;
  • How provisions in the strategy may affect existing contracts for waste collection and disposal;
  • Should waste services be standardised across England or should there continue to be flexibilities for local authorities; and
  • What the opportunities are for closer joint-working between authorities, particularly in two-tier areas.

"It is important that there is a comprehensive strategy to increase the levels of recycling,” said Committee Chair Clive Betts MP. “But ahead of placing greater responsibilities on local authorities we must first look at their ability to meet them. With budgets shrinking, and acute challenges elsewhere, is there capacity to tackle increased demands on waste services?”

Responses can be submitted via the Parliament website until 26 April 2019.

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