Tackling plastic film will play “a really significant part” in reaching the recycling targets set out in the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, a senior Defra official has said.
Chris Preston, deputy director for resources and waste at Defra, said that plastic film is a “wicked problem” and something the government is considering including among the core set of materials councils will need to collect from 2023 under upcoming consistency measures.
The core materials currently include glass, paper and card, metal, food, garden waste and plastic.
He said: “No final decisions have been made but obviously film is one of those wicked problems…most film probably ends up in residual waste, in landfill, or incineration. If we want to hit the sort of collection and plastic recycling rates we would like to see, film plays a really really significant part in that. It’s certainly part of our thinking about the inclusion of plastic film as part of a core set of materials.”
Mr Preston was responding to a question yesterday (October 14) at the virtual 2020 LARAC (Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee) conference, organised by the Environment Media Group.
Also speaking at the event, LARAC chief executive Lee Marshall said that the local authority body was against the inclusion of film at present, explaining that “the concern is that UK MRFs at present can’t really deal with film. I personally feel like its a 2025/2026 time rather than 2023”.
“The concern is that UK MRFs at present can’t really deal with film. I personally feel like its a 2025/2026 time rather than 2023”
Mr Marshall revealed that film has been one area of focus for the cross-cutting stakeholder group which has been examining the consultation proposals with Defra behind the scenes in recent months.
During his speech, Mr Preston outlined the ongoing work that Defra was doing to implement the government’s 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy.
He confirmed that the next consultations on three major elements of the strategy—EPR, collection consistency and a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)—would be published early next year.
He said: “We are moving towards final scheme design and we plan to consult on those in early 2021”
On the subject of consistency, Mr Preston said the government was committed to making recycling “easier for everyone” and to tackling householder confusion over what materials to put out for recycling.
However, when asked when councils would know what consistency would look like, he pointed to the challenge in catering for both rural and urban local authorities, commenting: “Next year…delivering an effective system is a complicated thing to think about”.
Mr Preston also discussed plans for extended producer responsibility (EPR), due to come into force in 2023, which will see producers cover the “full net costs” costs of managing packaging at the end of its life.
Commenting on this issue, LARAC said it was important this commitment was watertight.
Mr Marshall said: “Full Net Costs has to pass the Ronseal test”, he said. “It is something we really want to see”.
Mr Preston said that litter-related costs might be included as part of the full costs paid by producers—something which Mr Marshall said was “really pleasing”.
With regards to the proposed DRS scheme for England, LARAC said this should be ‘deferred’ as there was “little research” into how it might impact existing kerbside collections.
Mr Marshall said: “We feel we don’t know the full impact of cannibalising local authority waste collections with the DRS…lets get EPR and consistency embedded and then review it”.
However, this suggestion was rejected by Mr Preston who said: “I think we need all three reforms to come in at the same time…I would see the primary purpose of a deposit return scheme to boost recycling and reuse.”
With a lot at stake, Mr Marshall urged delegates to get involved in the consultations.
He said: “It will be your last main chance to influence policy so make sure you engage with the consultations when they come out.”
During his talk, Mr Preston also looked to the future and said that the government would soon be publishing its response to its call for evidence on standards for bio based, biodegradable and compostable plastics and would consult on measures for a new waste prevention programme.
In addition, he said there would be a consultation on regulations to make reporting of food waste mandatory for businesses “of an appropriate size” and a consultation on how to introduce a digital waste tracking system and reform the carrier, broker and dealer regime.
Finally, he made a point of thanking local authorities for working so hard during such an “unprecedented” year with Covid 19.
“I want to extend my heartfelt thanks for the professionalism and dedication you have shown throughout,” he said. “It was a truly outstanding effort and something for which the sector can be truly proud.”
The session was introduced by LARAC chair Carole Taylor and featured a keynote speech on plastic pollution from Richard Thompson OBE, a marine biologist from Plymouth University.