The Government published a new waste strategy in December 2018 ("Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England" (Waste Strategy)) with ambitious plans to introduce new incentives and regulations to increase recycling, minimise waste, and the move towards a more circular economy in England.
This note summarises the key planks of the Waste Strategy and considers the extent to which steps have been taken to implement it. We then review the manifesto policies of the main parties as they relate to the waste sector, and analyse the extent of common ground between them.
The Waste Strategy formed part of the Government's '25 Year Environment Plan', and aims to address and improve both business and domestic waste collection and recycling through a variety of measures, including:
- extending producer responsibility for packaging
- stimulating demand for recycled plastic by taxing plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic, and banning plastic products where there is a clear rationale for doing so
- improving recycling rates by creating uniformity around a core set of materials to be collected by all local authorities and waste operators
- introducing a weekly separate food waste collection for households, subject to consultation
- consult on increasing plastic bag charge from 5p to 10p
- Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) for single-use drinks containers.
Status of Legislation/Implementation of the Waste Strategy
The Government has begun to consult on matters under the Waste Strategy, including a proposal for a DRS. Legislative proposals have also been introduced in the Environment Bill (the Bill), announced in the Queen's Speech on 15 October 2019. The Bill provides for enabling powers to allow for the implementation of some of the recommendations in the Waste Strategy. Secondary legislation and consultation would still be required, so the Bill would not immediately lead to changes, but it does provide a framework allowing for further steps to be taken to introduce a number of initiatives including:
- extending producer responsibility for packaging
- a DRS and a charge for single use plastic items
- unifying and simplifying the domestic and commercial waste collection process by ensuring recyclable waste is collected separately for recycling, with food waste being collected once a week – but with these arrangements to come into effect on a date to be specified in further secondary legislation
- allowing for prohibition or restrictions on trans-frontier shipments of waste
- a framework for regulations requiring products to meet specified resource efficiency requirements, subject to consultation.
Election Manifesto Policies
With Parliament prorogued, the process for passing the Bill will need to start again in a new Parliament.
We have reviewed the election manifesto policies of those parties fielding MPs in the greater majority of seats across the UK, to see which parts of the Environment Bill and the Waste Strategy are likely to be taken forward. The key policies in relation to the waste sector are:
Conservatives: "We will continue to lead the world in tackling plastics pollution, both in the UK and internationally, and will introduce a new levy to increase the proportion of recyclable plastics in packaging. We will introduce extended producer responsibility, so that producers pay the full costs of dealing with the waste they produce, and boost domestic recycling. We will ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, consulting with industry, NGOs and local councils on the date by which this should be achieved".
Labour: "We will make producers responsible for the waste they create and for the full cost of recycling or disposal, encouraging more sustainable design and manufacturing. In government in Wales, Labour has transformed the position of recycling, placing them in the top five globally for recycling rates. A UK Labour government will learn from Wales’ example, and will also back bottle-return schemes."
Liberal Democrats: "We will introduce a Zero-Waste and Resource Efficiency Act to ensure that the UK moves towards a circular economy, including:
- Banning non-recyclable single-use plastics and replace them with affordable alternatives, aiming for their complete elimination within three years, as a first step towards ending the ‘throwaway society’ culture and an ambition to end plastic waste exports by 2030.
- Benefitting consumers through better product design for repairability, reuse and recycling, including extending the forthcoming EU ‘right to repair’ legislation for consumer goods, so helping small repair businesses and community groups combat ‘planned obsolescence’.
- Introducing legally binding targets for reducing the consumption of key natural resources and other incentives for businesses to improve resource efficiency.
- Extending deposit return schemes for all food and drink bottles and containers, working with the devolved administrations to ensure consistency across the UK.
- Establishing a statutory waste recycling target of 70 per cent in England, extend separate food waste collections to at least 90 per cent of homes by 2024, and strengthen incentives to reduce packaging and reduce waste sent to landfill and incineration."
Green Party: Initiatives include:
- "Develop the infrastructure necessary to enable large corporations and individuals to recycle close to 100% of the items they use"
- "Require manufacturers to offer ten year warranties on white goods, to encourage repair and reuse. We will create a comprehensive ‘right to repair’, to require manufacturers to keep goods operational years after purchase and to ban the practice of producing goods with the intention that they will become obsolete in a few years’ time"
- "Ban the production of single-use plastics for use in packaging and invest in research and development into alternatives to plastic. We will also extend the successful tax on plastic bags to cover plastic bottles, single-use plastics and microplastics, and extend plastic bottle deposit schemes"
- "Develop and implement a reformed waste strategy where manufacturers and retailers are required to pay the full cost of recycling and disposing of the packaging they produce"
There is clear common ground between the manifestos, in that all parties appear to support the policies outlined in the Waste Strategy. Labour and the Conservatives do not appear to suggest going any further. However, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party would push further and faster, with 70% recycling under the former and up to 100% under the Greens.
In principle, this suggests that whoever wins the election, policies similar to those in the Waste Strategy should gain cross-party support. However, whether the outcome of the election is to implement or have a further referendum on Brexit, that topic is likely to take up a lot of time in the legislative agenda, which may delay the timing of any waste policies. That said, once the Environment Bill (or its successor) is passed, there will be a framework for secondary legislation, which ought to be easier to steer through Parliament.
Addleshaw Goddard advise on a wide range of matters relating to the waste sector including energy from waste projects, waste collection and disposal contracts, and on policy and legislative issues. Please contact one of us if you would like more information.