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UK launches landmark resources and waste strategy

Businesses and manufacturers will pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste, under a major new UK government strategy unveiled by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove on December 18. The move will overhaul England’s waste system, putting a legal onus on those responsible for producing damaging waste to take greater responsibility and foot the bill.

UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove visited Veolia’s Materials Recycling Facility in Southwark, London to launch the Resources and Waste Strategy (photo courtesy Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – Defra).

Launched at Veolia’s recycling centre in London, one of the most advanced sorting facilities in Europe, the announcement forms part of the government’s ambitious new Resources and Waste Strategy, the first comprehensive update in more than a decade.

Producers will also be expected to take more responsibility for items that can be harder or costly to recycle including cars, electrical goods, and batteries. Householders will also see the existing complicated recycling system simplified, with new plans for a consistent approach to recycling across England. Timings for introduction will be subject to discussions at the Spending Review.

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. 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, said Environment Secretary Michael Gove

Extended Producer Responsibility

To help drive up recycling levels further, the government will introduce a consistent set of recyclable material for collection, subject to consultation. This will be funded by industry through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which will see industry pay higher fees if their products are harder to reuse, repair or recycle and will encourage sustainable design, subject to consultation.

EPR for packaging will raise between GBP500 million (≈ EUR 556.2 million) and GBP1 billion (≈ EUR 1.11 billion) annually for recycling and disposal.

The move builds on the Autumn Budget, which announced a world-leading tax on plastic packaging which does not meet a minimum threshold of at least 30 percent recycled content, subject to consultation, from April 2022. This will address the current issue of it often being cheaper to use new, non-recycled plastic material despite its greater environmental impact.

The Resources and Waste Strategy sets out how the government will:

  • ensure producers pay the full net costs of disposal or recycling of packaging they place on the market by extending producer responsibility – up from just 10 percent now
  • review producer responsibility schemes for items that can be harder or costly to recycle including cars, electrical goods, batteries and explore extending it to textiles, fishing gear, vehicle tyres, certain materials from construction and demolition, and bulky waste such as mattresses, furniture, and carpets
  • introduce a consistent set of recyclable materials collected from all households and businesses, and consistent labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle, to drive-up recycling rates
  • ensure weekly collections of food waste, which is often smelly and unpleasant, for every household – restoring weekly collections in some local authorities. This will be subject to consultation which will also consider free garden waste collections for households with gardens, to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from landfill
  • introduce a deposit-return scheme, subject to consultation, to increase the recycling of single-use drinks containers including bottles, cans, and disposable cups filled at the point of sale
  • explore mandatory guarantees and extended warranties on products, to encourage manufacturers to design products that last longer and drive up the levels of repair and re-use
  • introduce annual reporting of food surplus and waste by food businesses. Should progress be insufficient, the government will consult on introducing mandatory targets for food waste prevention
  • clamp-down on illegal movements of waste at home and abroad by introducing compulsory electronic tracking of waste, and tougher penalties for rogue waste crime operators if they mislabel their waste to circumvent tax rules

The strategy sits alongside government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, the recently published Bioeconomy Strategy, and the Clean Growth Strategy which sets out how the UK is leading the world in cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change and driving economic growth.

The government has listened to industry and these steps have the clear potential to dramatically change the way the sector operates to increase recycling and recovery rates. With consistent collections and advanced facilities like this at Southwark, more recyclable materials can be collected for reprocessing into new products. As a business, we are ready to invest, to take advantage of new technology, build more infrastructure and work with brand owners and local authorities to harness resources on an industrial scale, commented Richard Kirkman, Veolia’s Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Veolia Southwark’s Integrated Waste Management Facility in London.

The strategy builds on existing government work to tackle unnecessary waste including a world-leading ban on microbeads in personal care products, a 5p (≈ EUR 0.055) plastic bag charge which has taken over 15 billion single-use plastic bags out of circulation, a GBP15 million (≈ EUR 16.7 million) pilot scheme for reducing food waste, and up to GBP10 million (≈ EUR 11.1 million) to clear the worst abandoned waste sites that blight local communities.

We support a circular economy and welcome the resource and waste strategy that will help us all deliver it. The plan embodies a solid commitment to tackling serious and organised waste crime, which drains the economy and blights communities. Last year, the EA closed down over 800 illegal sites and carried out 93 successful prosecutions. The strategy sets to build on our successes, with additional resources, better innovation and improved partnerships across government and enforcement agencies, said Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency (EA).

Innovation funding

The government also announced GBP8 million (≈ EUR 8.9 million) of funding for eight new research projects that will explore new and different ways of making, using and recycling plastics.

In addition, the government is also investing GBP20 million (≈ EUR 22.2 million) to tackle plastics and boost recycling: GBP10 million (≈ EUR 11.1 million) more for plastics research and development and GBP10 million (≈ EUR 11.1 million) to pioneer innovative approaches to boosting recycling and reducing litter, such as smart bins.

This is in addition to the GBP20 million (≈ EUR 22.2 million) for plastics research and development through the Plastics Innovation Fund announced in March 2018, the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance and a GBP66 million (≈ EUR 73.4 million) package of funding to boost global research.

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