Last reviewed 26 February 2019

No more business as usual! The Government’s new Resources and Waste Strategy will make manufacturers and companies pay the full recycling or disposal costs of their packaging waste. The aim is to incentivise a radical overhaul of product designs and processes.

To meet the UK’s future environmental, climate change and energy challenges, plus global low-carbon commitments, the Government is introducing a fleet of new 2019 strategies, frameworks, programmes and watchdogs with legislative teeth.

Buoyed by increasing public concern that poorly controlled waste is more harmful than previously thought, and single-use plastic in particular, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will launch its new resource-based strategy after extensive consultations with industry and the spring budget.

Its aim is to replace the traditional open-ended use of resources that only produce waste with the circular use of waste as a resource and near-zero final disposal. More than 80 major brands have already signed the Government’s new Waste to Wealth Commitment, with the goal of doubling national resource productivity and eliminating avoidable waste by 2030.

Another factor making the position particularly acute is China’s decision last year to stop treating nearly half of the world’s paper and plastic waste.

No time to waste

Defra stresses that while the risks of inaction are enormous, the opportunities for “a prosperous and resilient, low-carbon economy” to turn “waste into new wealth” are equally large.

The new strategy’s blueprint sits alongside the 25 Year Environment Plan, the recently published Bioeconomy Strategy, and the Clean Growth Strategy, all three designed to make the UK a world leader in cutting carbon emissions while driving economic growth.

Under the new measures introduced by Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, producers must take more responsibility for items that are harder, or costlier, to recycle, including cars, electrical goods, and batteries.

Rather than tinkering around the edge, the call is for businesses to ask themselves radical questions about their services, operations work and use of technology. Defra also wants to see collaboration synergies between organisations, extended value-chains and sectors. So that lessons can be shared and momentum maintained, systematic progress reporting is also required.

Step-change

The strategy is the first comprehensive update for more than a decade. In its crosshairs will be eliminating avoidable plastic waste, plus the sustainable aim of leaving “the environment in a better state than we found it for future generations”.

While businesses pick up more of the burden, householders will also see the existing complicated recycling system simplified. This will be linked to new plans for consistent recycling across England. Timings will be discussed as part of the 2019 Spending Review — a politically-tricky date still to be set.

The Autumn Budget 2018 introduced the world’s first tax from April 2022 on plastic packaging not meeting a minimum 30% recycled content threshold. The overall goal is to reverse the current situation where it is often cheaper to use new, non-recycled plastic materials.

Food for thought

As the man at the helm, Mr Gove summarised the detailed goals; “Our strategy sets out how we will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Together we can move away from being a “throw-away” society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource.”

He added, “We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste.

“Through this plan we will cement our place as a world leader in resource efficiency, leaving our environment in a better state than we inherited it.”

The public turns to business to help

Ipsos MORI research found that most consumers want business to help them reduce their waste with c.80% preferring money-back incentives, plus dedicated spaces in shops for returning used packaging and clothing. Loyalty points are popular and there is also a trend towards “hiring not buying” to help consumers reduce their individual waste.

In practice

How will this be funded? By industry through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). How will this work? Industry will pay higher fees if its products are harder to reuse, repair or recycle than the published listings.

Defra estimates that EPR for packaging will generate a revenue stream of between £500 million and £1 billion each year to help fund recycling and disposal.

Detailed measures

In more detail, the Strategy sets out how the Government intends to:

  • make producers pay full disposal/recycling costs rather than the current 10%

  • revise producer responsibility schemes for cars, electrical goods, batteries, plus textiles, fishing gear, tyres, some construction and demolition materials, mattresses, furniture and carpets

  • implement weekly household food waste collections — potentially with free garden waste collections to reduce landfill GHG emissions

  • introduce a point-of-sale deposit return scheme on single-use drinks containers, bottles, cans and disposable cups

  • explore mandatory guarantees and extended warranties encouraging longer-lasting product designs and more repair and reuse

  • insist on annual food surplus and waste reporting by food businesses — with mandatory targets if waste levels are too high

  • require compulsory electronic tracking to stop illegal waste movements with tougher penalties for waste crime operators who use mislabelling to dodge tax rules.

A waste of crime

The Environment Agency will play an increasing role in tackling serious and organised waste crime. In 2017, it closed more than 800 illegal sites and achieved 93 successful prosecutions. Additional resources will go towards better innovation and improved partnerships across Government and enforcement agencies.

Importantly, the new strategy will build on Government work to stem unnecessary waste, including a world-leading ban on microbeads used in many cosmetics and personal care products. These are ingested by marine creatures and enter the human food-chain. A 5p plastic bag charge has removed some 15 billion single-use plastic bags from circulation. The Government is also running a £15 million pilot project to reduce food waste; plus, £10 million to clear up the worst abandoned waste sites.

Innovation funding

From a fund of c.£8 million, eight new research projects exploring new ways of making, using and recycling plastics will be set up. Separately, the Government is investing £20 million to tackle plastic pollution and boost recycling. A further £10 million goes to more plastics research and development. And another £10 million will fund pioneering approaches to boosting, recycling and litter reduction — like smart bins. This is in addition to the £20 million for plastics research and development through the Plastics Innovation Fund.

The Government is also driving international initiatives, like the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, plus a £66 million funding package to boost global research.

As a footnote, the first reading of the new Environment Bill is due after Easter which will set powers and limitations for the UK’s new Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) as the post-Brexit successor watchdog to the European Commission and European Court of Justice.

Summary

The Government’s radical blueprint for the UK’s new Resources and Waste Strategy is designed to turn waste into a resource in a circular economy. It wants to tackle growing waste problems, minimise material going to disposal and eliminate avoidable plastic waste. China’s 2018 decision to stop treating the world’s waste adds to the problem.

Defra will make business and industry fully responsible for the recycling and disposal costs of their relevant packaging waste and will use Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) as a financial incentive to encourage individual companies to review how they can improve their products and processes.