Harmonizing England’s waste collection: Experts clash with council leaders over government plans
23 Mar 2023 --- The UK government’s impending plans to harmonize England’s waste collection systems, which are currently dictated by individual councils, are being heavily criticized by local authorities as senseless and risk causing “chaos” for the nation’s recycling systems. However, environmental consultants defend the plans, asserting that harmonizing waste collection will provide equal access to services and raise recycling levels in the long term.
UK waste collection systems are divided between the country’s four nations. In England, collection policies are left to each council to decide.
However, last year the government passed the UK Environment Act, which requires a consistent set of recyclable materials – including paper, cardboard, plastic and glass – separately for all households and businesses. Collection of food and garden materials will also become mandatory.
“Recycling must be harmonized in the UK to give citizens equal access to services. If anything, the plans do not standardize and simplify services enough,” Robbie Staniforth, innovation and policy director at Ecosurety, tells PackagingInsights.
“They merely ensure that a list of mandatory materials is collected by councils. Tourists visiting the UK will be bemused by the plethora of different recycling services in various parts of the country.”
Reduction to local freedom?
A Defra consultation on the act, conducted last year, led to proposals that would cost £465 million (US$572 million) annually for the first seven years of implementation, according to research by the District Councils’ Network, a lobby group, which is criticizing the plans.
The group has said they are concerned about “their potential to reduce local freedom to deliver services that work in the best way for our communities.”
Peter Fleming, the Conservative Party leader of Sevenoaks District Council in Kent, said the reforms would mean more garbage lorries on the roads and do nothing to encourage household waste reduction through consumer change.
“The idea that standardization – a national bin service – is the way forward makes absolutely no sense,” he told the BBC.
The UK government has committed to meet a 65% municipal recycling rate by 2035 – around 20% lower than current rates. The government is expected to release an official response to a Defra consultation on the Environment Act tomorrow.
Driving recycling rates
Despite doubts that standardization will raise recycling rates, Staniforth points to the example set in Wales, which remains the UK’s best performer by some distance.
Since last year, the Welsh administration has exceeded the statutory target of 65% of all municipal waste before 2035.
According to the last global study from Eunomia in 2017, Wales was ranked third in the world behind Germany and Taiwan on the global recycling leaderboard.
“Harmonization in Wales has played a major part in simplifying the system to help drive up recycling rates, compared to the rest of the UK. It is an example that England should follow,” says Staniforth.
“The government’s plans set out a framework that gives councils enough scope to tailor their services to local needs. In the long run, greater harmonization will benefit UK citizens and help producers to make their packaging universally recyclable.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
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