What is Defra’s new ‘Simpler Recycling’?

Following Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s speech yesterday (20 September) on his ‘New Approach to Net Zero’, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Thérèse Coffey, has confirmed that consistency legislation is going ahead under the new name ‘Simpler Recycling’. 

Defra simpler recycling In an announcement shared with subscribers to Defra’s newsletter, Coffey reassured that the legislation will be ‘outlined shortly’ – despite Sunak scrapping ‘plans for households to have seven recycling bins’.

‘Consistency in Recycling’ was born out of a pair of consultations held by Defra first in 2019 and subsequently between May and July of 2021. The consultations aimed to help ‘improve the quantity and quality of what England recycles both at home and at work’ after recent stagnation in recycling rates.

Proposals resulting from the 2019 consultation included:

  • Requiring all local authorities to collect a standardised core set of dry recyclable materials in kerbside collections (such as glass bottles and containers, paper and card, plastic bottles, plastic pots, tubs and trays, and steel or aluminium tins and cans);
  • Reviewing this core set of materials frequently and if possible expanding it over time;
  • Requiring all English local authorities to provide kerbside collections for food waste, (as well as providing containers and liners);
  • Providing access to a free garden waste collection service;
  • Providing statutory guidance on minimum service standards for recycling; and
  • Standardising bin colours across all local authorities.

In the response to their original consultation, Defra said it ‘continue[d] to support separate collection of dry materials as the default to achieve high-quality recycling, in particular separating glass and fibres.’ But recognised ‘that in some circumstances separate collection is not necessary to achieve high quality or is not technically, economically or environmentally practicable.’

A response to the 2021 consultation was expected in early 2023 but was delayed until after the May local elections.

How simple will Defra’s ‘Simpler Recycling’ be?

Defra says its ‘Simpler Recycling’ plans will not only ‘ensure all homes in England recycle the same materials’ but also noticeably states that ‘none of these materials will need to be separated at home’.

Defra reiterated in its announcement that ‘it was never the case that seven bins would be needed by households’.

While it can be assumed that ‘Simpler Recycling’ will correspond with the 2019 and 2021 consistency consultations, there is still no timeline for the release of the response or any other clarification on the system. Defra has been promising for several months that the legislation will be released ‘imminently’. 

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

‘Targets without credible delivery plans amount to little more than empty promises’

John Scanlon, Chief Executive Officer for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, commented on the series of announcements: “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 & 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.”

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