Transition to circular economy must be part of climate strategy, says CCC

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has urged the government to accelerate the transition to a circular economy as part of a Covid-19 recovery plan that prioritises the climate crisis, reiterating its call for a ban on biodegradable wastes to landfill by 2025.

Releasing its annual report to Parliament yesterday (25 June) on the UK’s progress on its climate goals, the CCC outlined where the government has been falling behind its targets and where action needs to be focused in the coming months and years.

Transition to circular economy must be part of climate strategy, says CCCThe report does not make for reassuring reading, with the CCC finding that the UK has failed on 14 out of 21 progress indicators, falling further behind in many areas. Only two of 31 key policy milestones have been met in full.

The CCC calls on the government to use the opportunity of the Covid-19 pandemic to implement policies to address the climate crisis as part of an economic recovery strategy, turning the Covid-19 crisis into a 'defining moment' in the fight against climate change.

In addition to key areas such as aviation, surface transport and energy, the circular economy has been identified as one of the key areas where investment and policy action should be targeted. Among the policies recommended by the CCC is a ban on biodegradable wastes to landfill, reiterating a call made in its 2019 report.

As it stands, 70 per cent of emissions from waste are caused by anaerobic decomposition of biodegradable wastes in landfill and the CCC underlines that a ban would assist the UK in achieving its net-zero emissions.

The CCC urges such a ban to be implemented in all UK nations by 2025 – the Scottish Government is set to introduce a ban by 2025 after pushing back its original implementation date of 2021.

To enable the banning of biodegradable wastes to landfill, the CCC has also recommended that the timescale for the implementation of source-segregated food waste, garden waste and dry recycling collections across England, provided for in the Environment Bill, be ‘greatly accelerated’ from 2023-2035 to 2022-2024.

With the final form of the Environment Bill still to be confirmed – the Bill expected to enter the committee stage in September – the CCC has also called for the government to set a 70 per cent recycling rate target for 2030, more ambitious than the government’s current target of 65 per cent by 2035 included in the Resources and Waste Strategy.

The CCC noted that recycling rates have ‘plateaued’ in England at around 45 per cent, noting the ‘improvement’ in Scotland in the past decade and the achievements of Wales, which has one of the ‘highest recycling rates in the world.’

To achieve these recommendations, the CCC underlined that support is vital for local authorities to be able to invest in waste collection, re-use and recycling infrastructure.

The CCC report states that 208 local authorities and private waste management firms need to ‘urgently invest’ in collection infrastructure and new recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities to make sure the capacity is available to treat waste before a landfill ban for biodegradable wastes is implemented.

In addition, the CCC recommends that government policies should incentivise the public to reduce their food waste, that it should be made mandatory for businesses to report their food waste amounts, and that the impact of waste targets on the utilisation of energy-from-waste (EfW) plants should be examined.

‘Laid the groundwork’

Commenting on the government’s progress so far within the waste and resources sector, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) Jacob Hayler said: “Through its Resources and Waste Strategy and Environment Bill, the government has already laid the groundwork for major change which will help unlock the full potential of the recycling and waste sector to deliver significant carbon reductions for the economy, but these vital policy frameworks have not yet come to fruition.

“They now represent a ‘quick-win’ for government against the recommendations made by the CCC, but need a renewed focus and impetus to make up for time lost to the Covid-19 crisis.

“In addition to delivering carbon savings to the wider economy through our core resource-efficiency, recycling and landfill diversion activities, ESA members are also working on a net-zero strategy for the sector to de-carbonise operations by improving the efficiency of EfW infrastructure, including: greater use of heat offtake; removing plastics from EfW inputs; reducing emissions from the transport of waste and secondary materials; and reducing the fossil-based energy used to power our sector’s infrastructure.

“But delivery of this strategy must be to pragmatic timescales and will require support – both from a policy and practical perspective – from government, local authorities, businesses and consumers.”

Despite government policy progress in the past few years, the Covid-19 pandemic and the UK’s impending departure from the EU has placed the waste and resources sector in a precarious position. Earlier this week, Greener UK’s latest Brexit Risk Tracker revealed the threat posed to the waste and resources sector by Brexit has increased over the last few months, with the UK falling further behind EU standards and ambition.

Specifically, Greener UK points to various key consultations that were due in England at the end of 2019 and early 2020 which have still not materialised and it is unclear when they will do so. These consultations were set to address the transposition of the EU’s Circular Economy Package (CEP) into UK law, waste carriers and the duty of care and extended producer responsibility (EPR) for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

You can read the full CCC report to Parliament on its website.

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