Government accused of continuing to bungle recycling and waste reporting policy

The UK Government is remaining tight-lipped regarding details of its Resources and Waste Strategy, including drinks container recycling and food waste reporting. This is concerning some green groups, who are pressing for more clarity and certainty.

Government accused of continuing to bungle recycling and waste reporting policy

As the week began, The Grocer reported that the Government has no update on its plans to consider mandatory food waste reporting and targets for businesses, especially large retailers.

The Grocer was shown a letter sent to campaigners by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which stated that the Department is taking no further action on these targets and disclosures at this time.

Defra first promised to explore these changes in late 2018, through the Resources and Waste Strategy. It consulted on new approaches to food waste last year and the consultation has now been closed for a full 12 months.

A spokesperson for the Department told edie that Defra never guaranteed that a food waste reporting mandate would be introduced, nor that the food and drink value chain would be subjected to new binding targets – it was simply going to explore the evidence for and against.

The spokesperson said that the consultation response is still in the works, and no decision will be formalized until it is released. They said: “By increasing the number of businesses measuring and publicly reporting their food waste, we expect to drive action to reduce it. We will publish a government response in due course.”

Some 9.5 million tonnes of food was wasted in the UK last year, according to WRAP. Globally, the equivalent of around one-third of the food produced is wasted.

As 70% of the UK’s food waste comes from households, the Resources and Waste Strategy included a commitment for all UK homes to receive separate, weekly food waste collections. The initial intention was to begin these collections before the end of 2023.

Plastic waste management

As the week went on, parts of the Strategy pertaining to the management of plastic waste came under fresh scrutiny.

Consultancy EA Earth Action released a report outlining that the UK is likely to mismanage more than 250,000 tonnes of single-use and short-life plastics by the end of the year. This is because the use of these kinds of plastics now exceeds our ability to properly process them domestically or export them legally.

The global average consumption of short-life plastic per person per year is 20.9 kilograms. The UK exceeds this considerably, at 31.1kg.

The EA Earth Action report states that the UK is on course to export almost 150,000 tonnes of these plastics before the year is out.

Earlier this year, the Government confirmed that it would not take on MPs’ recommendations to end all plastic waste exports from 2027. The current Government has committed to ending exports to non-OECD nations this decade, and many of these markets have already voluntarily stopped accepting plastics from wealthier nations.

EA Earth Action’s co-chief and stakeholder engagement lead Sarah Perreard said: “If the UK wants to show real leadership on this issue, it must prioritise significantly reducing its plastic consumption, implement effective reusable packaging schemes, and join the 13 European countries that have already introduced a functioning and effective Deposit Return Scheme (DRS).”

The UK has delayed the implementation of a DRS in England and Wales to 2025. Waste is a devolved issue with Scotland, which has delayed its own DRS to later this year.

Nature 2030 this week stated that it received a sparse response to its Freedom of Information request to Defra on consultations on the DRS, which ultimately concluded in new delays and in glass being excluded from England’s scheme. The group asked for the total financial cost to conduct the whole consultation process and the total hours spent by the employees. It received no figures.

Nature 2030’s argument was that Defra should have followed evidence from previous consultations from 2019 and 2021 to avoid wasting money.

Commenting on the Freedom of Information response, Green Party politician Natalie Bennett said: “The Government’s management of the entire issue has been a shambles. In this, as so much else, we have a government that acts at governing, but fails to deliver any effective action.

“The Government’s management of the entire issue has been a shambles. In this, as so much else, we have a Government that acts at governing, but fails to deliver any effective action.”

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said she was “mortified” to send a late response to a letter from MPs that accused her Department of a “culture of delay” earlier this year. She has pledged to speed up the publication of consultation responses, letters and reports on the effectiveness of policy packages.

Related article: UK’s waste policy delays ‘discouraging businesses from making vital investments’

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