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Climate Change blog - ADEPT's response to PAC's call for evidence on resources and waste

The Public Accounts Committee has recently called for evidence on the Government’s resources and waste reforms for England. In this month’s blog, Steve Palfrey, Chair of ADEPT’s Waste Group and Assistant Director for Environment and Waste at Suffolk County Council, talks about ADEPT’s response…

The Government published its Resources and Waste Strategy in 2018, which ADEPT and organisations from across the sector wholeheartedly welcomed. It was ambitious and really set out a vision to reform waste services and drive towards a more circular economy. The strategy included a number of key themes that the Government had consulted organisations such as ADEPT on, and had come to some pretty firm conclusions on how it wanted to reform the system.

Central to that was Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which would make producers responsible for the cost of dealing with any products they make once they become waste. It would provide a direct financial incentive to minimise the amount of material used in packaging and to design it for recyclability and re-use instead. This would reduce the cost burden not only on general taxpayers, but also on the environment by encouraging producers to think about their material in a different way. EPR is not a new idea and has been adopted in other countries to great effect, but would be a real game-changer in the UK in the drive to a more circular economy.

Other themes in the strategy include the introduction of Consistency in Collections to ensure residents and businesses have a standard expectation of what can and cannot be recycled, delivered locally but reinforced by national communication campaigns. A Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) was another flagship proposal and there was recognition of the need to focus on Waste Prevention.

Since 2018 there have been two rounds of consultation. The first, in 2019, brought some of these themes to life, particularly EPR, Consistency in Collections and the DRS. Frustratingly, the Waste Prevention proposals weren’t as well developed as the others. Since then, the Government has published its revised waste prevention programme, ‘Maximising Resources, Minimising Waste’, which shows much greater ambition. We’d like to see this backed up with specific policy proposals. The second round of consultation in 2021 continued with these themes and while we have had the Government’s response to EPR and the DRS, more than two years on there is still no sign of the response on Consistency in Collections.

As a result of the delay, we are now in a position where the proposals that were intended to deliver reform are holding back service evolution and re-design. Councils and waste management companies are unable to plan for service change and investment in new infrastructure because we’re waiting on clarity on a number of things, including funding. EPR payments are delayed and uncertain, and although the Government has promised to provide funding through new burdens for the non-packaging reforms we don’t have any detail or guarantee on that yet. It makes it impossible to produce a firm business case for change and investment. We’re in a long term freeze-frame where no investment can be signed off and that’s causing a backlog in the sector.

Through the Public Accounts Committee’s call for evidence, ADEPT has highlighted the impact that the current lack of clarity and certainty from the Government is having on local authorities in terms of stalled investment and being able to make decisions around service design. What we would like to see as a result of this review is for the Government to recognise the impact the delay is having and to proceed at pace with providing clarity around funding and any service requirements. We want a route provided to support those local authorities that are ready to take decisions and to invest in service reform, as well as a realistic timetable for nationwide transition which reflects those councils that are tied into contracts for a longer period. Government’s recent policy shift from the mythical seven bins and ‘Consistency’ to ‘Simpler Recycling’ could hopefully provide a mechanism for this.

But because of the delay, there is an opportunity for the Government to re-think the DRS. ADEPT would like see any DRS proposals demonstrate clear value for money, such as a fresh consideration of a digital scheme based around kerbside collection. Also, as EPR is key to driving towards a more circular economy, it must be implemented to the new timetable. This needs to be done with as much information as possible provided as early as possible, in order for all parties to deliver against that timetable.

However, we are wary that the timetable for collection and packaging reform is becoming condensed and continued delay could mean that other reforms, such as the ban on biodegradable waste to landfill and the introduction of an emissions trading scheme for energy from waste, will be implemented before the collection and packaging reforms have had the opportunity to have an impact. This could cause a massive additional cost to tax payers.

ADEPT’s full response to the Public Accounts Committee’s call for evidence on the Government’s resources and waste reforms for England can be found here.


Steve Palfrey - Chair of ADEPT's Waste Board


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