25 April, 2019
The consultations published last December by DEFRA and the Treasury have a deadline for submissions of May 12th and 13th. They concern how England should manage its waste collections and treatment; how the UK should manage its packaging waste; and how the UK should tax plastics. Within the scope of the consultations on packaging waste, the Government is consulting on two questions- how to make the producers pay for all the costs of managing the waste they create (known as Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR). In the UK our EPR system only covers approximately 10% of the cost of managing the waste of items put on the market, leaving the other 90% of the costs falling on our Local Authorities. This is very different from the ‘Green Dot’ system adopted across Europe that covers full costs. The other question being asked is whether and how to introduce a deposit-return scheme (DRS) for drink containers (bottles and cans) to reduce littering and increase recycling.
The consultations have created a new industry- the consultations conference industry! All over the UK professionals who have anything to do with remotely concerned with packaging, waste and the food/retail industries, have been racing around talking to one another and trying to find common ground, understand the evidence, position themselves and their businesses.
DEFRA has made it clear it wants to move on a trajectory that simplifies collections and creates consistency across the nation; increases the amount of money put into collecting and recycling all waste whether that is funding from central Government or from taxes on packaging and plastics; reduce plastic waste; send zero food waste to landfill by 2030; simplify labelling to ease the messaging to the public; and introduce benchmarking and service performance criteria to ensure councils meet minimum standards.
It must be hard at times to be a civil servant. Whilst they are striving for simplicity, uniformity and consistent standards, ensuring the new system is funded and resilient, most stakeholders involved are fighting for their solution; councils are arguing that their waste collection systems are the best (for sure better than the council next door) ; those involved in food waste are arguing about how it is collected and treated; glass recyclers want glass collected separately; paper recyclers want paper collected separately; the plastic industry is fighting against taxes and everyone else; the retailers are moaning that this will all cost them more. So, whilst DEFRA recognises that the current system is not working (recycling levels are falling and we are sending millions of tonnes of food waste to landfills still), everyone seems to be replying “the system is not working because what I want has not been adopted”.
Well, this is, of course, a bit of an exaggeration, we have been among those racing around the country attending meetings and listening and talking to stakeholders across the economy. What has impressed us most is a genuine desire to make change happen now, as everyone realises the system is malfunctioning and that with Michael Gove leading the charge, this is a once -in- a- lifetime opportunity of designing a resource and waste system future-proofed for the next decade. Indeed, we have targets of 65% recycling to meet in 2035 – it seems a long way away, but in terms of investing to build infrastructure, it is not. And with renewed rules on what we deem to be recycled, our existing recycling rates are around half of the target.
Key issues from the talks we have had
Over these last weeks before the consultations close, we will be continuing the dialogue and trying to understand the best solutions for the environment and the economy. What underpins the industry is money- and the waste industry has been starved of resources for years now. We need lots more money to do things right. Once we all agree that the next question is, who pays? Then, who gets to spend it?
So when you read the responses to this strategy bear in mind that behind the answers will be above all financial as well as environmental motives.