Earlier this year, Defra launched consultations on introducing a deposit return scheme (DRS), extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging, and consistency in household and business recycling.
It was initially believed the government would publish its responses to the consultations by the end of October.
However, speaking via video link at the RWM trade show in Birmingham yesterday (22 September), Chris Preston said it was “undeniably fair” to say the Covid-19 pandemic had “had an impact” on the time taken to reflect on the responses.
He also pointed to the pause in the passage through parliament of the Environment Bill, which he described as “absolutely core to underpinning our ability to deliver reforms”.
Having recently completed the report stage in the House of Lords as part of its passage through parliament, the bill is expected to gain royal assent “in the autumn”, Mr Preston said, at which point it will become the Environment Act.
He said: “Without the Environment Act, we couldn’t achieve the DRS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. But I think that’s fairly unlikely. There’s huge cross-party support for the bill.”
The delay also means a scheme administrator will not be appointed to oversee EPR until “early next year”, Mr Preston added.
Mr Preston also moved to reassure local authorities that government would cover the full net costs of mandatory new services such as food waste collections.
He said the government was obliged not to increase council tax when new services were introduced, and also committed to make funding available to local authorities under ‘new burdens’ doctrine.
“Once the requirements of the Environment Bill are in place, councils are unable to withdraw their food waste collection service, and it in effect becomes a new burden,” he said. “Government will cover the full net costs.”
Mr Preston also suggested representatives of industries such as the food and drink sector had lobbied government over the costs they will have to pay under EPR, which have been estimated at £2.7 billion.
“In a democratic society, people will always put through their views to ministers,” he said. “I’m a great believer in kicking the tyres on any policy before it becomes law.”
However, he said the government’s commitment to introduce EPR for packaging was “still there”, especially as the policy had formed part of the Conservative Party’s manifesto.