The ‘Mapping the politics of waste’ report examines the coalition Government’s waste policy and the manifestos of the five main political parties on recycling targets, zero waste, the circular economy, resource efficiency and investment.

The report finds that under the coalition Government, waste has developed at a different pace across the UK with Scotland and Wales making more progressive commitments while policy in England has stalled.

Cross-sector recycling targets of 70% are already in place in Scotland and Wales, and with Northern Ireland to follow suit, it remains to be seen whether England will be politically motivated to do the same, the report finds.

Main political parties

The report finds that if the Labour Party wins the next General Election (May 2015) then it is likely to impose a 70% recycling target for England. The Green Party is likely to undertake the same exercise, according to the report.

The Lib Dems remain neutral on the matter, but a green manifesto recently put forward by a group of party activists, the Liberal Sustainability Network, calls for binding business waste targets on resource efficiency and packaging.

The two parties most opposed to higher recycling targets are the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), according to the report. The report states that UKIP is anti-bureaucracy and is seeking to deregulate waste management.

UKIP’s recent local manifesto pledge to reduce landfill tax would make recycling a less commercially viable option and associated targets somewhat irrelevant. The Conservatives are also in favour of less regulation, though not to the same extent, but “there would be a reluctance to set more stretching targets”, according to the document.

However, an influential group of Tory modernisers, the 2020 Conservatives Group, are exerting pressure on their party to rethink this approach. A 2020 paper released earlier this year called for landfill bans on recyclable materials and the introduction of incentives and rebates to encourage more household recycling.

‘More consistency needed’

FCC Environment stated that it commissioned the research because of uncertainty surrounding the waste and resource management industry, particularly in relation to Defra’s decision to ‘step back’ from the sector.

Speaking to, FCC Environment sales and marketing director Kristian Dales said that the industry needed greater consistency regarding legislative and economic drivers to encourage investment.

He said: “If there is no consistency then there is no confidence to invest in infrastructure. So, the industry is waiting for that consistency to allow it to invest.”

He explained that if “you are looking at investing billions of Euros” into new infrastructure then “it’s a high-risk to be investing that level of money into UK plc infrastructure for waste management without some clear guidance from Government that they are going to stay the course”.

Stagnating recycling rates

The FCC report has been unveiled at the same time as Defra released statistics on waste managed by local authorities in England in 2013-2014. Figures show that the recycling rate for England rose by only 0.1% last year to 44.2%, making it less likely that the Government will meet an EU target to recycle at least half of all waste by 2020.

South Oxfordshire District Council had the highest ‘household waste’ recycling rate at 66%, with over 55% of their recycling comprising of green/organic waste. Rochford District Council and The Vale of White Horse District Council both achieved ‘household waste’ recycling rates of 65%.

Ashford Borough Council recorded the greatest increase in recycling after switching to fortnightly collections, rising from 12% to 55%.

Speaking about the statistics, Dales said: “It’s concerning that England’s recycling rate appears to be flat-lining with such slow growth, particularly if 2020’s 50% target is going to be reached.”

“Cash-strapped local authorities are under immense pressure to provide reliable waste collections for residents and increase recycling rates.

“The waste management and recycling industry has a vital role to play in helping local authorities deliver a user-friendly system of collections which is cost-effective and will continue to boost recycling levels.”

Environmental Services Association economist Jacob Hayler added: “The latest statistics from Defra show the continuation of a worrying trend. Household recycling rates are continuing to stagnate with reported rates rising just 0.05% last year.

“Far from stepping back from waste-related issues, Defra needs to be making fresh interventions to help local authorities and their private sector partners introduce the services needed to reach the 50% target for 2020.”

Liz Gyekye

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