Councils could have to pay back money to householders for bottles that residents put out for recycling at the kerbside under proposals for the Deposit Return Scheme.
And, there will be a connection between Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy and fiscal measures around recycling being developed by the Treasury, recycling minister Therese Coffey has revealed.
Speaking to the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee last week, Dr Coffey indicated a number of areas which the forthcoming “comprehensive” Resources and Waste Strategy will cover. And, she confirmed it will be published by the end of 2018 with a late November date possible.
Dr Coffey said: “It’s still in its final stages for consideration in the department. It will be published by the end of the year – if we can get it out for the end of November that will be a good outcome.”
Asked by committee member Labour’s Kerry McCarthy about whether there are financial aspects tied up with the budget, the minister said: “It’s not done and dusted, it’s close. There are some fiscal measures in there and the Budget is used to announce fiscal measures. We have got to make sure it’s right and right across government as well.”
Single-use plastics tax
Expectations are that the fiscal measures could well focus on a tax on single use plastics, potentially a “non-recyclability tax” with an option being that the money goes towards local authority recycling work.
Explaining more on such a measure, senior Defra waste official Chris Preston told the committee that “people respond to price changes, people can make choices. Prices might increase for more expensive packaging so consumers are given a choice… it is part of the polluter pays principle.”
Conservative committee member, Philip Dunne asked the minister whether the proposed Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) could divert material from councils?
Dr Coffey responded in detail but did say that policy for the proposed DRS scheme is still being finalised. She said: “It is fair to say in this policy development, very conscious councils say this is primarily one of their main sources of income when we are thinking about this. I think the wider impact of what we are doing with the PRN may relieve some of that pressure on them to just be focused on PET, or largely be focused on PET.
“The intention of the DRS will be to effectively, one to increase recycling but also to reduce littering. So it’s a mixture of whether people do it on the go, whether they save their bottles potentially to do at their supermarket shop or to put in their kerbside recycling. The general outcome we want to get is to make it as easy as possible to do the right thing for the environment for the goods that they purchase. It is still to be worked out but you could image that a council actually pays back a household back for bottles they pick up on their behalf or it could be donate to the council to help keep down your council charges.”
And, Dr Coffey also said that people may go out on bottle runs, such as scouts and guides collecting material for income.
Dr Coffey reflected on potential changes to the PRN system which will be consulted on (see letsrecycle.com story). The minister said: “Packaging is more than just about plastic, the whole concept of PRN that we have considered and we’ve kind of floated previously is very sensible, it’s about making sure more effort is put in to proactively managing waste in a circular economy way as far as possible.
“A tax on single use plastic is an attempt to shift the dial away from the use of those materials at all and have substitutes, sometimes you can’t but there are good examples where plastic can be substituted, not all, we will still have plastics.” Referring to the PRN changes and the tax, she added: “The two are neither necessarily entirely trying to achieve the same outcome but they are neither mutually exclusive.”
Also addressing the committee, Phil Conran, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Packaging said the revised system is going to increase the costs for the covered. “It is going to increase their costs, people are talking about five or ten times what their current costs are and that will certainly make producers and retailers sit up and look at what they are producing and packaging.”
Proposals for a formal sort of secondary market for recyclable materials, such as pots, tubs and trays, look likely to be included in the strategy, with indications of this coming from Dr Coffey. She said: “It is really our intention to improve the secondary market.”
And, the minister claimed that the “only secondary market that is working very well is PET, our intention is that the secondary market for more materials will become a lot more in the council’s interest to do that.”
There have been previous discussions of the idea of a secondary market for materials in the UK with discussions including the possibility of councils coming together to sell materials. Dr Coffey gave little away to the committee but suggested that there would be suggestions for different local authority approaches which could impact on contractors.
Defra official Chris Preston emphasised that there will be a focus in the Resources and Waste Strategy on recycling rather than on incineration.
And, the minister said that the European Commission “is very concerned about the explosion of incineration around the European Union, it doesn’t massively want to encourage it in the future.”
Dr Coffey said that she was “not convinced that we want to massively increase the amount of incineration we are doing. There is sufficient capacity out there for incineration… we have too much across the European Union.”