Recycling policy delays hampering crucial investment decisions, UK Government warned

When the UK Government launched its Resources and Waste Strategy in late 2018, it promised the biggest overhaul to regulation and legislation in this space in more than a decade. But several key Strategy components were delayed due to Covid-19 lockdowns and, even now, are facing additional delays and changes.

Simplified recycling and weekly food waste collections in homes were promised by 2021 and 2023 respectively. The former change has only just been made; the latter will be made through to 2026.

A new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regime for packaging producers was meant to launch in October 2024 but a one-year delay was recently confirmed.

Additionally, plans to roll out a UK-wide Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for beverage packaging have faced a myriad of controversies and delays – as have proposals for mandatory food waste reporting from large businesses.

The PAC has heard evidence from waste management firms, investors in this sector, and local authorities alike, that delays in Whitehall are translating into delays on investment decisions.

Some packaging producers are holding off from investing in the necessary changes to their designs and packaging, and those operating recycling collection and processing systems are also generally cautious, the PAC has heard.

Clarity needed

It is understandable, the PAC has noted, that the Strategy has faced some delays during Covid-19, and that some businesses and councils say they need additional time to prepare during the current economic downturn.

But it has urged Defra to provide more clarity and offer more transparency when it can, noting a trend toward delayed publications of consultation responses – especially relating to Strategy schemes concerning the behaviours of businesses rather than individuals.

The Committee is urging the publication of overdue documents as soon as possible, plus interim statements where applicable. It also wants to see the Government setting out learnings it will take on board from other nations that have already implemented schemes like a DRS.

Committee chair Meg Hillier MP said that businesses and councils are “crying out for information” and said that providing details is in the Government’s interest, given its medium-term and long-term climate and waste management goals, including a 65% recycling rate for municipal waste by 2035, up from 52% currently.

Hillier said: “Changing how we deal with waste is crucial to save the environment from further damage and meet the legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050.  To meet its targets, it’s vital that the Government encourages a circular economy where products can be used again or for longer.

“Without a clearly-communicated vision from the Government on how these crucial reforms will actually work in practice, it’s unlikely that these targets are reachable.

“Our inquiry has found that the reforms were beset with problems from the initial set up, with the Department lacking a clear plan on how to make their ambitions to reduce the environmental and economic costs of municipal waste feasible. Delays to the programme mean that businesses and consumers can’t prepare for the upcoming changes, which could mean that even more plastic is sent to landfill in the long term.”

edie reached out to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for a comment on the PAC’s findings.

A spokesperson said: “Significant progress has been made on the delivery of our reforms to reduce waste and improve our use of resources. We are working with the supply chain to strengthen relationships and ensure they are kept informed and involved.”

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