Government Policy

While it is up to councils how to collect and manage waste, they are also influenced by central government policy.

Central government policy influences local authorities in how they manage waste
Central government policy influences local authorities in how they manage waste

Waste strategies setting out how ministers believe waste should be managed are in place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A summary of all current government policy and strategies can be found below.


Since the Conservative Government came to power in May 2015, no announcements have been made with regards to the future direction of waste policy in England.

However, it is widely expected that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, led by Liz Truss, will continue the coalition government’s previous approach of championing localism and a lighter regulatory touch.

High on the Department’s agenda is likely to be how to boost England’s stagnating household waste recycling rate in order to meet the Waste Framework Directive target of 50% by 2020.

But, councils have raised concerns that local authority waste budgets are likely to suffer if the Conservatives push ahead with further cuts to local government in the next spending review.

The last major policy document to be issued on waste under the coalition government was the Review of Waste Policy in England in 2011 which set out 13 commitments to move towards a ‘zero waste’ economy. It prioritised efforts to manage waste in line with the waste hierarchy and reduce the carbon impact of waste.

Liz Truss has retained her position as Environment Secretary
Liz Truss has retained her position as Environment Secretary

However, former resource management minister Dan Rogerson wrote to members of the waste and recycling sector in November 2013 to inform them of a reduction of activities in waste from 2014/15, including less support for local authorities.

Since then, priorities for the department have been the Materials Recovery Facility regulations to drive up the quality of recycled materials and a number of waste prevention initiatives, following the launch of the Waste Prevention Programme for England in December 2013 .

Despite Defra taking a back seat, former Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles took an active interest in the waste arena, launching a £250m fund to help councils retain or return to weekly waste collections and championing a Deregulation Bill to abolish what he saw as ‘punitive measures’ used by councils to encourage recycling, in moves which proved unpopular for councils. However, Mr Pickles has since been replaced at DCLG by Greg Clark, and there was no indication in the Conservative’s pre-election manifesto that the party will continue this policy.


In Scotland, the Scottish Government and its delivery body Zero Waste Scotland have introduced a number of ambitious policies on waste and recycling governing both local authorities and businesses. This includes the recent announcement of plans to launch a pilot of a reverse vending machine to reward recycling.

Many powers over waste, including control of landfill tax, have been been devolved to Scotland and further powers, such as those governing PRNs, are due to follow.

The overarching policy document for waste is Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan, published by the Scottish Government in June 2010.

Scotland's Environment Minister Richard Lochhead is keen to explore a deposit scheme for beverage containers in Scotland
Scotland’s Environment Minister Richard Lochhead is keen to explore a deposit scheme for beverage containers in Scotland

This document sets out the Scottish Government’s vision for a zero waste society, where waste is treated as a resource. The plan includes landfill bans for specific waste types, separate collections of waste such as food, restrictions on energy-from-waste feedstock and measures to cut the carbon impact of waste. A 70% recycling target, with a minimum of 5% sent to landfill, has also be set for 2025.

Waste (Scotland) Regulations were passed by the Scottish Parliament on 9 May 2012 to implement the strategy. Although the regulations focus largely on business, they also include a number of provisions impacting upon local authorities. Key points include:
•    Local authorities to provide a basic recycling service to all households by 1 January 2014
•    Local Authorities to offer a food waste recycling service in non-rural areas from 1 January 2016
•    A ban on material collected for recycling going to landfill or incineration
•    A ban on municipal biodegradable waste going to landfill by 1 January 2021



Wales currently has the highest recycling rate of all the devolved nations, recycling 54% of municipal waste in 2013/14, thanks to an ambitious long-term waste strategy. Entitled Towards Zero Waste, this strategy was published by the Welsh Government in June 2010.


This sets out a framework for improving resource efficiency in Wales from now until 2050. Measures promoted in the strategy include waste prevention, the separate collection of food waste and kerbside sorting for dry recyclables.


Alongside the strategy, the Welsh Government has developed sector plans to cover: municipal waste; collection, markets and infrastructure; wholesale and retail waste; and, construction and demolition waste.


As outlined in the strategy, Wales became the only part of the UK to set statutory waste and recycling targets in December 2010, by passing the Waste (Wales) Measure. Under this law, every local authority in Wales must meet recycling targets which rise gradually to 70% by 2025 or face fines.


In March 2015, Wales’ natural resources minister Carl Sargeant announced plans to review Wales’ collections blueprint document, which was originally published in 2010 and outlines the Welsh Government’s preference for ‘kerbside sort’ collection method of recyclable material from householders, as part of a wider review of its waste policy and targets. The review will also examine the use of weight-based targets to encourage recycling in Wales.


Northern Ireland

A revised Northern Ireland Waste Management Strategy entitled Delivering Resource Efficiency was published in October 2013 and sets the policy framework for the management of waste in Northern Ireland.


It builds on and retains the core principles of the 2006 Strategy, and places a renewed emphasis on the Waste Hierarchy. The new Strategy moves the emphasis of waste management in Northern Ireland from resource management, with landfill diversion as the key driver, to resource efficiency i.e. using resources in the most effective way while minimising the impact of their use on the environment.


The Strategy highlights a number of policy and legislative proposals of which the most significant for local authorities are:
•    The development of a new recycling target for local authority collected municipal waste;
•    The development of a Waste Prevention Programme;
•    The introduction of a landfill restriction on food waste

Back to top

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest waste and recycling news straight to your inbox.