UK targets 65% municipal waste recycling rates under EU’s circular economy package

The UK Government has today (30 July) agreed to transpose aspects of the European Union's Circular Economy Package into UK law, agreeing on targets to recycle 65% of household waste by 2035 and to allow a maximum of 10% municipal waste going to landfill in the same timeframe.

UK targets 65% municipal waste recycling rates under EU’s circular economy package

Recycling levels have languished in England for several years and the country is currently not on track to achieve its recycling target of 50% by 2020

In 2015, the European Commission proposed and adopted the Circular Economy Action Plan. Two headline ambitions of the Plan were a common target across Member States to reach 65% recycling rates for municipal waste by 2035 and a binding target to reduce landfilled municipal waste to a maximum of 10% by 2035.

While the UK consulted on and agreed to the Package as part of its membership with the EU, Brexit negotiations and the likelihood of a “No Deal” departure from the bloc at the end of the year has left some green groups that the UK will backslide on current environmental legislation.

In a welcome boost to the UK’s resource efforts and net-zero target, the UK Government has confirmed that a selection of targets from the Circular Economy Package will be transposed into Government targets.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “We are committed to increasing our recycling rates and reducing the amount of waste that is sent to landfill to create a cleaner waste industry and reduce carbon emissions.

 “Through our landmark Environment Bill we will be bringing forward a raft of measures to do just that, and this new Circular Economy Package takes us yet another step forward to transforming our waste industry.”

As a result of the new legislation, which will be introduced later this year, the number of materials that can be landfilled or incinerated will be reduced. A requirement will also be issued that waste which is separately collected for recycling must not be incinerated or sent to landfill.

The UK, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments will not consult on the matter, noting that many of the measures in the Circular Economy Package are “relatively small technical changes” from the original discussion they took part in back in 2013 and 2015.

A Regulatory Triage Assessment has been published, however. It claims that a net present social cost of £13.5m and direct costs to businesses of around £2.6m annually.

The measures in the package will align with the UK Government’s existing environmental legislation packages.

The landmark Resources and Waste Strategy, for example, commits to introducing a  tax for businesses which produce or import plastic packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled content. Under the proposals, producers will be forced to pay full net-costs of disposal of packaging they place on the market – up from just 10% now. This is subject to further consultation currently taking place.

Through the Strategy, Defra will aim to boost recycling levels by introducing a consistent set of recyclable material for collection. This would be funded by industry through EPR for packaging, which the Government believes will raise between £0.5bn-£1bn a year for recycling and disposal.

Additionally, the 25 Year Environment Plan sets out a framework to double resource productivity and achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050.

A common EU target for recycling 70% of packaging waste by 2030 was introduced as part of the Circular Economy Package. In contrast, Recycling levels have languished in England for several years, with the latest statistics showing that the country is currently not on track to achieve its recycling target of 50% by 2020. Wales, however, is “well on course” to reach 70% municipal waste recycling by 2025, according to the Government.

Matt Mace

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