Published on Friday (1 December), the report said businesses and local authorities are “unable to prepare for the required changes due to a lack of clarity on what form the reforms will take and the impact on council funding” (see letsrecycle.com story).
The PAC explained in its report that Defra’s waste reforms— which include ‘simpler recycling’, extended producer responsibility and the deposit return scheme — are reliant on businesses and consumers changing their behaviour by producing less and recycling more.
Without clarification, the PAC warned that local councils “cannot invest and improve their recycling services and must delay procurement”.
The PAC also warned there is a real risk this would result in insufficient facilities to deal with the increased volumes of recycling coming from the reforms, meaning that more plastics will be incinerated, taken to landfill, or exported to other countries than before.
The Environmental Services Association (ESA), was among those who welcomed the report.
The association’s recycling policy advisor, Patrick Brighty, said while the ESA is “encouraged” to see Defra’s commitment to rectifying previous weaknesses in its collection and packaging reforms, “we now need to take the learnings from the report”.
“The ESA welcomes the findings of the PAC Committee inquiry into the Government’s programme of resources and waste reforms,” he outlined.
Mr Brighty added: “We are encouraged to see Defra’s commitment to rectifying previous weaknesses in the Collection and Packaging Reforms (CPR) and to running the reforms as a cohesive integrated programme going forward.
“To deliver the programme, we need the finalised EPR regulations for packaging to come into force so that our sector can mobilise around them. Following the publication of Simpler Recycling in October, the recycling and waste sector will need time to work with our local authority partners, and business waste producers in England, to determine collection systems and make the corresponding process and infrastructure changes at sorting facilities.
“Resolving this outstanding uncertainty will unlock the £10 billion investment that our members stand ready to make in delivering on Government’s ambitious programme of waste reforms.”
Gavin Graveson, Veolia’s senior executive vice president, Northern Europe, and former chairman of the ESA, explained that the Resources and Waste Strategy represents a “huge transformation” for the waste sector, but the delays since 2018 have created an environment where it is “cheaper to pollute than it is to be sustainable”.
Mr Graveson outlined that “now is the time to ensure each policy is fit for purpose”.
He said: “Reform needs to be simple, clear and deliverable to give businesses the assurances needed to invest substantially in the UK’s green infrastructure. This will drive the circular economy and create jobs, whilst bringing the nation closer to its net zero ambitions.
“Where the government can significantly impact progress is through incentives that make it more expensive to pollute without placing a burden on taxpayers. An escalator for the current plastic packaging tax, addressing both the percentage of recycled content and the tax rate per tonne, would provide the necessary framework to encourage investment in UK recycling infrastructure and reduce carbon emissions from general waste treatment.”
Elsewhere, from a producer point of view, the Food and Drink Federation said it agrees with the PAC report’s assessment, in particular in relation to the lack of clarity around EPR.
Jim Bligh, director of corporate affairs and packaging, said: “Over the last two years, we’ve raised our concerns directly that this proposed scheme doesn’t replicate best practice when compared globally and is more closely aligned to tax raising schemes in countries like Russia and Hungary. DEFRA must take on board the recommendations of the committee to work closely with all stakeholders to design a world leading scheme that delivers a true circular economy, which means that recycled food packaging is used again for the same purpose and not sent to landfill or incinerated.”
Commenting on the Public Accounts Committee’s final report on the Government’s programme of waste reforms, Dr Adam Read, chief external affairs and sustainability officer, for Suez Recycling & Recovery UK, said: “The release of the PAC Committee findings comes amid a tumultuous period in politics, and it is encouraging to witness a positive step forward following a series of waste reforms marked by ambiguity.
“Particularly encouraging is the Committee’s alignment with the industry’s perspective, emphasising the need for Defra to present future plans. This includes explaining how it intends to achieve the Government’s 2035 household recycling target and implementing measures to promote waste prevention and reuse, ultimately contributing to the target of doubling resource efficiency by 2050. The call for a comprehensive transition plan, something we have repeatedly advocated for, cannot be overstated.
“Industry and local authorities need time and information to plan their transitions under all the new policy requirements and continued delay and uncertainty costs money, time and delays improvements in the system that fights climate change and resource loss. This plan is essential to prevent the repetition of past mistakes.
“With the recent appointment of The Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP as Environment Secretary, we look forward to fostering a productive partnership and working closely with the new leadership and their team to implement clear, detailed policies that the sector deserve.”