12 January 2015 by Tom Goulding

Defra coy over waste policy direction

Government will be unable to dictate future waste policy in England until the EU Commission agrees a new set of circular economy proposals, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said today (January 12).

And, Defra also stated local authorities should lead on determining their own recycling arrangements – ruling out plans to reintroduce statutory recycling targets for individual councils. Councils, will, however, have to fill in another category on WasteDataFlow giving the end destination for their recyclables (more details below).

Defra was responding to recommendations made by the Efra select committee

Defra was responding to recommendations made by the Efra select committee

The Department was responding to a report compiled by Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee in October 2014. In the document, the Committee had accused Defra of ‘stepping back’ on a number of waste and recycling policy areas.

The report followed an inquiry into Defra’s performance chaired by Anne McIntosh, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, and which took evidence from industry stakeholders including waste firm SITA UK, the Welsh Government and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) (see letsrecycle.com story).

In a comprehensive response to the Committee’s conclusions, published on Efra’s website, the Department said that it ‘welcomed’ the committee’s findings – and reiterated once more that resource management policy was a ‘key priority’ for government.

Clarity

But, pressed on whether the government would implement the committee’s proposed ban on sending any recyclable material to landfill by 2025, Defra argued that it would only have ‘sufficient clarity’ once the EU proposed a new legislative package.

In December, a circular economy package floated by previous Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik was scrapped by the new administration – which included a 70% recycling target for all household waste in Europe by 2030.

The Department added that a restriction on sending recyclable material to landfill would impose ‘additional costs’ on small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Defra response states: “We believe there are more efficient options than restrictions in this area and evidence suggests that restrictions would likely impose additional costs on businesses, particularly SMEs.

Defra minister Dan Rogerson had previously claimed the UK "could not commit" to the EU's previous circular economy package

Defra minister Dan Rogerson had previously claimed the UK “could not commit” to the EU’s previous circular economy package

“The Commission has recently announced the withdrawal of their proposal to amend EU waste legislation and for it to be replaced by a new, more ambitious proposal by end 2015 to promote circular economy.

“It is only once EU negotiations on any new proposal have substantively concluded that we would have sufficient clarity to consider what further action, including on support and infrastructure, will be necessary to meet future EU measures.”

The Department also claimed that long-term predictions for future energy from waste infrastructure capacity were unfeasible until the new circular economy package is published.

Flexibility

Defra indicated that a new package should allow ‘greater flexibility’ than the one proposed by Dr Potocnik – adding that it did not support any ‘stringent’ new targets unless the economic and environmental benefits exceeded the costs.

At a meeting of the European Environment Council in October, current resource minister Dan Rogerson said that the UK “cannot commit to anything” until more detailed work had been carried out on how new targets would impact the UK economy.

Elsewhere in its response, Defra turned down recommendations to impose statutory targets on councils – amid fears that England might not meet the 50% household waste recycling target set for 2015.

The Efra committee had previously suggested Defra look to the ‘successful approach’ taken by Wales, where recycling rates have risen substantially year on year.

Defra responded: “The annual recycling rate for England in 2013 was 44.2% but this hides considerable variation between local authorities. Many local authorities have already surpassed 50% recycling rates and some have rates in excess of 60%.

PolicyProposals edit“We believe that local authorities should lead on determining the most appropriate recycling arrangements for their area, taking into account local circumstances. The Coalition Government currently has no plans to reintroduce statutory recycling targets for local authorities.”

End Destinations

Recommendations for Defra to consider the compulsory publication of an annual ‘Register of End Destination of Recyclates’ by all local authorities and waste management companies was similarly turned down. But, the Department did indicate that a new reporting facility is to be added to data recording requirements for councils under the WasteDataFlow system to record the destination of materials.

Defra said it ‘applauded’ authorities which had voluntarily published information through the Resource Association’s End Destination of Recycling Charter, and those which had made use of its ‘Question 100’ reporting facility.

The Defra responsed today rejected a request by the committee for an increase in public funding for WRAP and Keep Britain Tidy – which both hold charity status. It said: “The Government, as with all sectors of the economy, is facing challenging times and priorities must be made to ensure that work undertaken makes the best use of public funding.”

Fires

On a more positive note, Defra promised ‘speedier and tougher’ enforcement of action by the Environment Agency to clamp down on the number of waste industry fires.

The Department proposed that local waste planning authorities put in place arrangements with Fire & Rescue Services to optimise location and fire prevention measures.

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