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How Does The Government's Resources and Waste Strategy Affect UK Businesses?

Posted in Industry news
On 17 Oct 2019
By Jessica Keynes

Following on from the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan, published in January 2018, the government's Our Waste, Our Resources: A strategy for England report aims to address these specific areas of improvement. Not only is it the first significant waste strategy for nearly ten years, but it’s also the first-ever comprehensive waste and resources strategy.

The report covers eight key chapters, including resource recovery and management, sustainable production, consumer behaviour, and tackling waste crime. Since the report’s release, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) opened up the report for consultation earlier this year to which Biffa submitted its opinions.

Let’s take a look at the proposed changes and what that means for your business.

Consultation 1 - Consistency in household and business recycling

Household recycling rates in the UK have increased significantly from 11% in 2001 to around 45% currently, but progress has stalled in recent years. As well as cuts in services due to austerity measures, the increasing complexity of different types of packaging and packaging materials has resulted in a confusing array of waste and packaging materials for consumers, different materials being collected by different councils and non-existent or confusing labelling.

It’s a similar situation with business waste, which the government also wished to target. Business waste differs from customer to customer, but the same core recyclable materials and difficult to recycle materials are in many of the waste streams. “It’s about trying to achieve more recycling and more consistency,” said Jeff Rhodes, Biffa Head of Environment & External Affairs “working with producers to help make packaging and products simpler and more recyclable, thereby helping to support simpler and more consistent recycling collections and labelling”.

What are the proposed changes and how will they affect businesses?

  • The government is to define a core set of dry mixed recyclable materials that all businesses should arrange to have collected. This would include plastic bottles; plastic pots, tubs and trays; glass bottles and jars; paper and card; and metal cans and caps. Specific arrangements may depend on specific tonnages of those materials, depending on the business and all businesses are also expected to have food waste collections.
  • With a national setlist of core recycling materials, more consistent collection models can then be applied in line with nationally set “minimum service standards”. Materials defined as “difficult to recycle” should be kept out of the core materials and should be collected separately where such options exist.
  • Both of these proposed plans means businesses in England and Wales must have at least a mixed recycling and food waste collection service in place alongside their general waste rather than just a general waste collection. Similar principles are already in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

For more information on recycling collections, please see the Recycling Collections – a report by Biffa which discusses key principles that align with Defra’s new proposals.

Consultation 2 – Packaging producer responsibility reform

The Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations, introduced in 1997, and the resulting introduction of packaging compliance schemes, such as Biffpack, have helped to improve the recycling of packaging waste from 25% in 1999 to around 70% presently. These figures meet current EU and UK targets, and yet there is still more that can be done.

Companies are required to self-govern their reporting of recycling, which is done predominantly by weight, and they share the responsibility of key obligations through the supply chain. However, the government now wishes packaging waste producers to fund the full net costs of managing the waste they put on the market. A particular driver is the creation of a new funding source to support council recycling collections, given that most packaging waste ends up being collected by councils through household recycling collections. Reform is a key way to address these issues.

What are the proposed changes and how will it affect businesses?

  • As local authorities currently bear the majority of the cost of packaging waste collections, producers will be required to fund the net costs incurred, including collection, treatment, disposal and related reporting.
  • There will also be additional incentives to reduce the use of unnecessary and hard-to-recycle packaging.
  • It’s also suggested that adding clear labelling to products will help households and businesses to recycle materials correctly
  • Therefore businesses will need to invest in more sustainable packaging and clearer recycling labels in order to reduce costs incurred by extended waste management responsibilities.

Biffa operates the Biffpack compliance scheme under current regulations and has specialist knowledge and a successful track record in this area.

Consultation 3 – Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)

The aim of this consultation is to explore the benefits of a new DRS and ensure that it makes it easy for consumers to return drinks containers, leading to increased recycling rates and a reduction in litter. “A key problem is on-the-go consumerism,” said Simon Rutledge, Biffa Group Sustainability & External Affairs Manager “that has led to an increase in litter and plastics that find their way into the environment.”

The government has suggested that a DRS scheme could deliver a 20% increase in the recycling of drinks containers, which would usually find their way into residual household waste. However, there is also widespread concern that a DRS scheme which also targeted materials currently collected for recycling through kerbside schemes could undermine those systems, so a DRS which focussed on materials currently escaping as litter (“on-the-go” drinks containers) would be better.

What are the proposed changes and how will it affect businesses?

  • Through a newly proposed DRS scheme, consumers would pay a deposit for any drinks containers at the point of purchase.
  • This would encourage the return of the container by consumers, who would redeem their deposit.
  • Drinks producers would be required to join the DRS scheme and meet any targets set.
  • Depending on the nature of the business, companies could be affected in various ways. Retails need to consider where to install a DRS system into their stores while drink manufacturers would need to invest in the initial cost of the DRS systems and consider the plastic materials that would be accepted.

Consultation 4 – Plastic packaging Tax

More than 2 million tonnes of plastic packaging is used in the UK each year. One of the issues is that the majority of this plastic is ‘virgin’ and does not contain recycled plastic. This is due to the fact that recycled plastic has been historically more expensive than virgin material, despite the obvious environmental benefits it brings.

“This has been identified as a real problem,” added Simon. “The plan is to tax any producers that use less than 30% recycled content in their products. The benefit, then, is that this would naturally increase the demand for recycled material, encouraging and funding further investment in recycling itself.”

What are the proposed changes and how will it affect businesses?

  • The tax would apply to businesses that create plastic packaging made in the UK, including those using imported plastic.
  • It would tax businesses that used less than 30% of recycled plastic content in the production of their products.
  • It would also apply to composite packaging, bio-based and compostable plastics.
  • Manufacturing businesses would need to reconsider packaging materials used if they used less than 30% of recycled plastic content and other stipulations as well as potential reviewing providers of packaging materials if they do not or cannot meet the criteria.

    #reform #recycling #businesswaste

About the author

Jessica Keynes

Jessica Keynes

Jess works with Biffa’s digital team to create interesting and diverse content for the industrial and commercial industry. Her favourite subject is food waste, so keep an eye out for helpful tips!