18 February 2019 by Elizabeth Slow

Recycling consistency plans centre on ‘core’ materials

Plans for all local authorities in England to collect the same core set of dry recyclable materials, alongside a separate weekly food waste collection, have been outlined by the government today.

The measures form part of Defra’s consistency in collections consultation, which also covers proposals to require councils to provide free garden waste services.

Councils are to be encouraged to move towards consistency in recycling collections

Alternatives to weight-based targets, how to support joint working between local authorities on waste, and introducing standardised container colours, are some of the other measures covered in the consultation.

The consultation is one of a number of documents published today by Defra on household waste measures to implement core aspects of the Resources and Waste Strategy, as well as proposals around packaging waste and a deposit return scheme for drinks containers.

In terms of a core set of dry materials, Defra is proposing that collections from households and flats should include: glass bottles and containers; paper and card; plastic bottles; detergent, shampoo and cleaning products; plastic pots tubs and trays; and, steel and aluminium tins and cans. Defra estimates that 70% of local authorities in England already collect these dry recyclable materials.

Meanwhile on food waste, Defra is proposing to require from 2023, all local authorities offer households separate weekly collection. And, Defra has signalled its preference for food waste to be presented separately from garden waste.

Defra states that 1.5 million tonnes of household food waste is sent to landfill each year. Currently, 51% of local authorities in England collect food waste separately from residual waste. Out of this, 35% collect this separately on a weekly basis.

In terms of garden waste collections, Defra says that 58% of local authorities currently charge for this service, and that if every householder had access to a free collection service then overall household recycling rates would increase by 6%.


Local authorities have previously expressed concerns over added costs to council budgets in having to provide these services for free.

In its document, Defra does predict that local authorities would see a net cost increase of £550 million between 2023 and 2035 as they make savings on residual waste treatment “but face transition and ongoing operating costs and lose income from charging”.

However, Defra explains: “We want to ensure that, local authorities are able to make the necessary investments in infrastructure, such as waste collection vehicles, bins and sorting/treatment facilities, to support these changes and will work with them to ensure any new costs are fully covered.”

Funding could be linked to councils’ adherence to the consistency proposals, as well as to plans set out within the consultation on extended producer responsibility for packaging waste, also published today (see letsrecycle.com story).

Introductory video on the consistency proposals produced by Defra

According to Defra, the proposals are expected to contribute an additional 12% points to the current household recycling rate – taking it from 44% to around 56%. And, along with the predicted increase in business waste, the municipal recycling rate “would increase from 40% to 64% by 2035”, Defra says.

The document also covers consistency in waste and recycling collections from businesses and other organisations. Defra is consulting on requirements for eligible duty holders in the sector (producing municipal waste) to separate their dry recyclables from residual waste, so that they can be accepted for recycling. And, the consultation asks whether eligible businesses and organisations that produce food waste in significant quantities, should present this separately for recycling.

Defra estimates that between 30-40% of municipal waste produced by these organisations, which is similar in nature to household waste, is currently recycled. With high proportions of recyclable products, this performance could rise to 74% with the right measures, the consultation document notes.


Defra is also exploring how to develop non-binding performance indicators “to support local authorities to deliver high quality and quantity in recycling and waste management” and government has signalled it wish to encourage “greater collaboration and partnership working among local authorities in the area of waste collections and recycling”.

Separate food waste collections are to be pushed through the strategy

Defra is also seeking views on proposals to prepare statutory guidance for local authorities on minimum standards in providing household services, including the application of separate collections arrangements of TEEP. The guidance would also cover frequency of collections.

Subject to the outcome of this consultation there will be a further consultation in late 2019 or early 2020 on regulatory changes to implement the measures and supporting guidance.

Responding to the publication of the consistency consultation, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), said it was “disappointed” that the proposals were framed around ‘resident confusion’ rather than the type of materials collected.

It is clear that material type is the issue that residents have difficulty with, and this needs to be addressed more urgently than the collection part of the process,” LARAC said.

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) has welcomed the consultation, but suggested that mandatory food waste collections may not ‘provide the best solution across individual local authorities.

Ian Fielding, chair of ADEPT’s Waste Group said: “The burden of dealing with ever increasing volumes of waste has fallen squarely on local authorities without comparable moves to increase resources. This remains our overriding concern at a time of further cuts to local authority funding.”

Related Links
Consultation on Consistency in Household and Business Recycling Collections in England


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