Resources minister Thérèse Coffey has responded to concerns that measures outlined in Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy, such as a deposit return scheme, will negatively impact council recycling income.
The minister’s comments came during the annual Foodservice Packaging Association Conference in London this week (23 January).
Dr Coffey was giving an overview on the upcoming consultations into measures set out in Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy, which she described as “comprehensive and ambitious”.
During her presentation, Dr Coffey addressed concerns over plans for a deposit return scheme (DRS) for beverage containers, and the potential for local authorities to lose valuable materials and income from their kerbside collections.
Dr Coffey suggested that the new measures to increase recycling should work together rather than in isolation – and that the potential for increased demand for other recycled commodities could boost income to local authorities.
“We believe the other regulations we bring in will stimulate secondary markets for products so councils will not be losing out in that way, because there will be more of a market for yoghurt pots and all these other things they collect.”
Both a tax on virgin materials – announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond at the end of last year – and extended producer responsibility, are due to be consulted on as a way to increase recycling. The measures are among those intended to make packaging producers pay the ‘full cost’ of the recycling of their products.
Following her presentation, Dr Coffey was asked by Paul Vanston, chief executive of packaging association INCPEN, if any measures will be put in place to ensure money from a potential extended producer responsibility scheme can used by councils for waste collection – in addition to existing funding streams.
Dr Coffey said: “The Chancellor is very keen to improve the environment so he wants the most practical ways to make that happen. The Treasury has been supportive of this change.
“There has been no talk at all about changing budgets for local authorities in that regard, so this is seen to be recognising the original system; we had made a difference of some kind, but we all know it has plateaued. So that’s why it’s this step change that is now needed.”
As a result of this extra funding, Dr Coffey hinted at her intention to implement a more prescriptive approach towards councils over which materials they should be collecting from the kerbside.
She said: “A lot of councils are already required to collect a number of materials, but they can use an exemption called a TEEP exemption and in effect my intention is to remove that excuse not to collect at home what people can and should be recycling.”
And, commenting on DRS concerns, Dr Coffey explained: “We just want to expand and incentivise people to do the right thing,” she said. “We need to tackle the situation where people don’t take all their stuff home, and they consuming a variety of products… as they travel.”
“That’s why we are keen to make sure we get it right so that people are incentivised and not just worry, dare I say it, about the secondary markets for councils.”
Delegates at the conference also heard from Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, and former environment secretary.
Following on from Dr Coffey, Lord Deben said: “We don’t want a DRS to end up being a very expensive way of cannibalising the system that we already have”
On the RWS, Lord Deben described the document as “remarkably close to what we wanted” but he added “the devil as always is in the detail”.
And, Lord Deben called for cooperation from the sector to provide decisive responses to the consultations. “What is enacted now will be carried through by future governments of all kinds,” he added.
The morning session at the conference also saw presentations from Professor Richard Thompson OBE, head of internal marine litter research unit of the University of Plymouth, who spoke about both the benefits of plastic and the need to change at the design stage. He was followed by Professor Richard Bucknall, chair in materials chemistry at the Institute of Chemical Sciences at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University.
Resources and Waste Strategy Unwrapped
13 February 2019
Congress Centre, London