Simpler Recycling plan sparks confusion – reactions

Defra has revamped its plans for every council in England to collect a core set of materials, by announcing plans for a scheme called ‘Simpler Recycling’, “formerly known as Consistency in Recycling”. 

The announcement came from Defra yesterday evening (see letsrecycle.com story), soon after Rishi Sunak announced that he was “scrapping” proposals which would see every householder have “seven bins”, though he didn’t specifically mention consistency (see letsrecycle.com story).

The plans have caused some confusion, as many in the industry have highlighted the fact that the consistency legislation was never going to have every householder have seven bins, with even Defra saying this “was never the case”.

With details of the scheme to be announced soon, Defra has outlined some of they key points:

  • A requirement to recycle with seven bins will not happen
  • Will ensure all homes in England recycle the same materials
  • Those materials won’t need to be separated at home

You can see all the responses below in our live reaction blog, which has now closed.

Important to ‘work constructively,’ WRAP said

Claire Shrewsbury, director of insights and innovation at WRAP, added to the chorus of responses saying that little has changed. 

Claire Shrewsbury, director of insights and innovation at WRAP

She said: “Thankfully the policies are not being ditched, the only thing being scrapped is the idea that every home will receive seven bins. That was never the ask of consistent collections.

“It will be important to scrutinize the details of what emerges as consistent collections morphs into ‘Simpler Recycling’ – for both dry recycling and food waste – but as the Government’s own 2019 consultation found, over 80% of respondents were in favour of the separate collection of a core set of materials, and the public want to know that the material is really being recycled.

“We urge everyone to work constructively to overcome any emerging implementation challenges because climate change won’t wait, and Simpler Recycling simply must happen.”

‘Clear, joined up thinking’ required, FCC says

FCC Environment chief executive, Steve Longdon, expressed frustration that the industry is still awaiting clarity following “years of delay and uncertainty”. 

He said the consistent collections policy was designed to address consumer confusion and he hopes that Simpler Recycling will also help realise this ambition.

Steve Longdon, FCC Environment’s head of operations

Mr Longdon added: “Like many other sectors in the UK economy, the waste and recycling industry needs clear, consistent and joined up policy making to make the necessary investments to meet the UK’s recycling and Net Zero targets. The consistent collections policy was a once in a generation opportunity to reform our recycling system as we seek to move towards a more circular economy. We urgently need clarity from Government on Simpler Recycling if we are to achieve sixty-five per cent municipal recycling by 2035.”

Consistency will ‘save consumers money’

William Maxwell, co-chair of CAGS (Community Action Groups) Oxfordshire, has outlined that further sorting at the kerbside will deliver crucial cost savings to residents, likening the scheme to self-service checkouts at supermarkets.

He said: “We are confused at an announcement badged as helping hard-up families. Kerbside sort delivers not just higher quantity and quality, but

William Maxwell, co-chair of CAGS

carbon and, crucially, cost savings. Government didn’t step in when supermarkets moved to self-service tills, asking the public to self-scan every item in their shopping basket.

“This was done, so say the supermarkets, to save on staffing costs and so pass the savings back to consumers in price reductions. Is this not the case for asking the public to sort their waste, acting as sorters to reduce council costs and so reduce their council tax bills? Simpler recycling, if it means corralling councils into only using co-mingled dry mixed recycling, is therefore not a cost or carbon reduction measure.

“Of course we all now await, and after five years we have had plenty of practice at that, for some more detail.”

Announcement causes ‘further confusion,’ BioteCH4 says

Yesterday’s announcement of the ‘Simpler Recycling’ scheme has provided more questions than answers, an AD operator has said. 

Pamela Woolcock, group public sector lead at BioteCH4

Pamela Woolcock, group public sector lead at BioteCH4, said: “Yesterdays’ announcement appears to have added further confusion rather than long-awaited clarity on the future of waste collections, and indeed EPR and DRS in England.

“Is the last five years of work to improve how our country recycles its waste and make positive change being abandoned or was yesterday’s announcement simply a rebrand?!

“Following Rishi Sunak’s speech, Defra announced a ‘Simpler Recycling’ scheme. We need urgent clarity on what this means to ensure all the groundwork put in by local authorities until now is not lost. We urge Defra to make sure food waste recycling is not forgotten. 10 million tonnes of food waste are thrown away in the UK each year, which is responsible for nearly 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – food waste recycling is an important part of how we, as a society, address this environmental burden.”

‘Only noticeable change is the name,’ Ecoveritas says

Kathy Illingworth, head of sustainability at environmental data specialist Ecoveritas,  has urged the industry to wait for further details from Defra.

She said: “This is little more than political sleight-of-hand that – at present – does not materially affect recycling proposals,” he said. “The proposal to force everyone to have seven bins was never seriously on the table anyway, so the Prime Minister has seemingly ‘scrapped’ a policy that did not exist.

Kathy Illingworth is head of sustainability consulting at Ecoveritas

“The only thing that has noticeably changed at the moment is the name of the scheme, which is now referred to as ‘simpler recycling’. Beyond that, we will have to wait for Defra to add more detail to this announcement.”

Ms Illingworth went on to join those criticising the reasoning behind the decision, which was reportedly driven by a desire to drive a “green wedge” between the Conservative government and its opposition parties. 

“It’s disappointing to see the concept of recycling used as a windmill to tilt at – an example of heavy-handed big government that never really existed in the first place,” Illingworth continued. “We sorely need to build a consensus on this issue, and turning it into a political wedge issue risks toxifying what could be productive debates around the future of recycling. 

“Businesses need certainty. Between this announcement and confusion over the EPR rollout, it’s hard to have confidence in any environmental policy at the moment. EPR has been like a game of political pass the parcel, and each time the music has stopped, it has been nigh on impossible to fathom exactly who’s holding it. 

Seven bins ‘never seriously considered,’ Ecosurety says

Robbie Staniforth, innovation and policy director at Ecosurety, has also expressed confusion over plans to scrap a policy which he says was never “seriously considered” in the first place.

He explained: “Several times over the last five years, it has been reaffirmed that Defra are only looking to standardise what materials are collected in England, not how they are collected.

“As had always been planned, even before this announcement was made, councils will have the freedom to choose how they collect the various mandated materials. Yes, it is a shame that recycling is not being standardised further, but this is not new news in the slightest. What we are disappointed about is that the Government have still not published their ‘Simpler Recycling’ policy. Until we get absolute clarity from Government, we cannot build an improved system that delivers better recycling.”

ESA expecting ‘urgent clarity’

In response to the whirlwind day for the policy yesterday, the executive director of the Environmental Services Association, Jacob Hayler, said the prime minister has scrapped a policy “that never existed” and called for clarity over the next steps.

The executive director of the Environmental Services Association, Jacob Hayler

He remarked: “This was never a requirement under the Conservative’s Resources and Waste Strategy and, in practice, as is the case now, individual councils will largely determine their own infrastructure needs based on their individual constraints and opportunities.

“Far from being burdensome, the recycling reforms, which have been widely supported by industry since they were announced five years ago, are about making recycling easier for consumers by introducing a nationally-consistent range of recycling services that support clearer recycling labelling on packaging. These reforms will also unlock more than ten billion pounds worth of investment from the recycling sector in new green infrastructure, services and associated jobs – but the more floundering and backtracking we see from Government, the longer that investment in the UK is delayed.

“Rishi Sunak was clear in his announcement that the Government was not rowing back on a single environmental target, so we expect urgent clarity from Defra over new plans to meet its targets to achieve sixty-five per cent municipal recycling by 2035, as well as supporting a ban on sending organic waste to landfill by 2028.”

Producer group welcomes revamped plan

In an important sign that producers could be on board with the new proposals, one of the leading associations last night threw its weight behind the proposals.

Jim Bligh, the Food and Drink Federation’s director of corporate affairs and packaging said: “Food and drink manufacturers have an ambition to achieve net zero emissions by 2040, an aim shared across the farm-to-fork supply chain.

“Creating a circular economy for packaging is an important part of achieving these goals. Nobody wants seven bins, but we do need councils to collect and sort recyclable materials so we can turn yoghurt pots and crisp packets back into food-safe packaging. Manufacturers stand ready to work with government to get the details right, so we get value for money from the £2bn-a-year Extended Producer Responsibility reforms, which are underpinned by consistent collections.”

FDF members include Cadbury, Coca-Cola Euro Pacific Partners and Kelloggs.

Suez UK chief hopes ‘fabled seven bin plans confined to scrap heap’

John Scanlon, chief executive officer for Suez recycling and recovery UK, has had his say on yesterday’s announcements. 

He said that after spending nearly five years working with government to reform the UK’s waste and resources policy since the launch of the Resources & Waste Strategy for England, “it was disappointing to hear that work reduced to a media soundbite and dismissed by the prime minister”.

John Scanlon is CEO of Suez recycling and Recovery UK

Mr Scanlon said: “Scaremongering suggesting all households regardless of size and location would be forced to sort their recycling into the same seven bins needed to be countered with leadership and vision. Reforms to recycling collections aren’t about bins, they are about simplifying recycling so that wherever you live in the UK, you can recycle the same core set of materials in a way that is appropriate for your local area.

“I hope the only thing to be consigned to the scrap heap yesterday was the fabled 7 different bin proposal and we can now get on with the urgent business of reforming the UK’s waste and resources sector – a resource efficient economy is a resilient and thriving economy.”

Recycling Association welcomes plans but questions logic

The chief executive of the Recycling Association, Paul Sanderson, has welcomed the Simpler Recycling proposals, providing the consistency plans are not “fundamentally changed”.

He also said it was “farcical” that Defra said it was never the case that seven bins would be introduced, asking why the plan was needed if that was the case.

The chief executive of the Recycling Association, Paul Sanderson

Mr Sanderson said: “Hopefully, this will translate to a genuinely easy-to-recycle system that the consistency of collection reforms promised and is essentially a rebrand to aid communication to the public.

“However, we still await the detail and what scrapping the top-down approach and smarter way forward for recycling and reuse actually means.
“It was also farcical for Defra to issue communications that said ‘it was never the case that seven bins would be needed by households, this new plan ensures it’. Why stop doing something if it was never going to happen anyway?

“Like in other affected sectors such as car manufacturing, energy generation and supply, and heat pump manufacturing, the recycling sector needs certainty. We had a good plan with EPR and the consistency reforms that we should get on with implementing. I hope these changes to bring ‘Simpler Recycling’ don’t make everything more complex for our industry.”

CIWM says ‘name change not needed’

Lee Marshall, policy & external affairs director at the CIWM, said the announcement by Rishi Sunak to scrap “seven bins” was not needed as this was never the case. 

Lee Marshall is CIWM’s policy and external affairs director

He outlined: “It is probably a first to have a Prime Minister scrap a policy that hasn’t been implemented and was never proposed in the first place. We have since received confirmation from Defra that the policy is still progressing, but is now badged as ‘Simpler Recycling’, a name change that is not needed and has the potential to cause further confusion.

“We have gone through two detailed and lengthy consultations and CIWM members have sat on numerous working groups to help Defra ensure these policy reforms were informed, insight-led and evidence-based.

“It feels as if this valuable knowledge has been ridden roughshod over by No.10 and we very much hope this is not the case. Now more than ever the sector can support Government in delivering these vital resource and waste policy reforms and our insights should be valued.”

Alupro ‘hopeful’ but awaiting further details

Martin Hyde, sustainability and public affairs manager at Alupro, said while he is hopeful the renamed plans can deliver, he is awaiting further clarity. 

He said: “It is currently unclear if the government’s ‘simpler recycling’ proposals are a significant shift away from the previous consistency proposals, but we very much hope that this is not just an attempt to dilute long overdue and much needed measures to align kerbside recycling across England.

“Whilst it is promising to hear the government commit to ‘all homes in England being able to recycle the same materials’, we will have to wait to see the full proposals (and how they align with the EPR payment methodology still in development) before making a full judgment. One thing is for certain, we cannot hope to successfully engage and educate the public on what and how they can recycle, until we can offer them a consistent approach across the nation.“

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