Caroline Hand explains waste management strategies and what businesses can expect in the year ahead.
As the New Year begins, we can get a snapshot of the current situation in waste and resources by looking at Defra’s November 2021 progress report, Resources and Waste Strategy Monitoring Progress, on the 2018 Waste and Resources Strategy for England.
This reveals that the target to achieve 50% recycling of household waste by 2020 has been missed. In fact, in 2020 the rate dropped by 1.5% to 44% (from 45.5% in 2019). Waste which is diverted from landfill is mostly going to energy-from-waste plants rather than being reprocessed and recycled. Last year, 62% of packaging waste was recycled, up just 1% on the 2012 figure.
More details on the plastic tax are expected to be released. A tax of £200 per tonne will be placed on plastic packaging, including biodegradable, compostable and oxo-degradable plastics, made in, or imported into the UK, unless they contain at least 30% recycled plastic. A statement will include clarification as to whether chemical recycling can contribute towards the 30% recycled content.
The Government has also promised to issue an update on its proposals for:
EPR will apply UK-wide, while Defra’s DRS scheme and recycling proposals apply only to England. These three weighty and complex consultations have received 4727 responses in total, which Defra is still processing. In consequence, the rollouts for all of these have been delayed.
The update could take the form of draft legislation or a further consultation. Waste industry representatives are concerned that they will not have much time to acquire the necessary equipment, such as vehicles, bins and caddies, if the legislation comes into force as soon as 2023.
EPR makes manufacturers responsible for the full end-of-life costs of their products. This should incentivise sustainable design and help us move towards a circular economy. It will also introduce new, clearer recycling labels on consumer packaging (see New recycling labels). A great deal of the detail remains to be worked out. For a summary of the EPR consultation, (see The future of packaging: Extended Producer Responsibility consultation).
The DRS would place small deposits on drinks containers such as plastic bottles and cans that would be refunded when the used containers are returned. For further information (see Deposit Return Scheme).
The new requirements for recycling collections would even out the discrepancies between local authority schemes, giving consumers greater clarity as to what can be recycled. Discussions on consistent household collections are being held up by debate on when to include flexible plastics, the costs of garden waste collection and business collections.
Two related consultations close.
Consultation on proposals to ban commonly littered single-use plastic items in England. These are single-use cutlery and plates, balloon sticks, and polystyrene cups and food containers.
Call for evidence on other sources of plastic pollution. Defra is particularly interested in wet wipes, tobacco filters, sachets, and other single-use plastic cups. These products could be banned from containing plastic, or required to include labelling on packaging to help consumers dispose of them correctly.
The Plastic Tax comes into force (see Plastic Packaging Tax). The Treasury has forged ahead with this, rather than waiting for the results of the other consultations. The main difficulty for manufacturers lies in measuring the recycled content of plastics. Progress is being made: scientists can already detect the level of recycled content in polypropylene (PE), polyethylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). While they develop technical solutions to analyse other types of plastic packaging, businesses will have to rely on audit trails. Imports of plastic are particularly difficult to assess through audits.
It will not be possible to source all the necessary recycled plastic domestically, as the UK does not yet have sufficient reprocessing capacity. The EPR is intended to boost this.
New binding targets (see New targets — a good start for Defra?) under the Environment Act 2021 must be in force. These will include targets for waste reduction and resource productivity. One of the big challenges for the Government is to work out ways of quantifying and measuring these parameters.
Also, in 2022
A consultation is expected on banning exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries. The powers to do this are contained in the Environment Act.
Delayed beyond 2022
The rollout of EPR will be delayed until 2023.
Measures to ensure consistency in recycling will be delayed until 2023.
The English DRS will probably be delayed until the end of 2024.
Separate food waste collection should be happening throughout England from 2023, but this is likely to be delayed. The ambition remains for free separate collections of food waste to be rolled out to all households from 2025. This is included in the Net Zero strategy.
The Scottish consultation on incineration closes. The consultation asks what capacity is required to manage Scotland’s residual waste, what are the options for doing so and what are their trade-offs, how infrastructure siting decisions should be made and what can be done to reduce the environmental impacts of existing facilities.
The Scottish litter and flytipping consultation closes. This consultation proposes measures which include:
developing a “sustained, evidence based, national anti-fly-tipping behaviour change campaign”
establishing a national database and a flexible approach to waste disposal and targeted interventions, which could mean introducing mobile recycling centres, new technology or amnesties
increased penalties, plus the introduction of civil penalties.
The Scottish regulations banning certain single-use plastics come into force (Environmental Protection (Single Use Plastic Products) (Scotland) Regulations 2021). These will ban the following single-use plastic items.
Expanded polystyrene beverage cups.
Expanded polystyrene food and beverage containers.
Scotland starts rolling out the infrastructure for its DRS scheme, which is well ahead of the English one. This will include, for example, the installation of reverse vending machines in shops.
People can start returning bottles and cans under the DRS scheme.
Delayed beyond 2022
On 16 August 2023, the Scottish DRS becomes a legal obligation under the Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020.