Ministers from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have welcomed the government’s release of two consultations which will “overhaul the waste and resources sector”.
An expected third consultation on consistency in recycling and waste collections within local authorities has been delayed, although it could be issued soon.
In a joint statement the minsters say the measures as proposed will boost recycling, tackle plastic pollution and reduce litter. The ministers believe the measures could be used to make manufacturers more responsible for the packaging they produce and incentivise consumers to recycle more.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Through our world-leading Environment Bill we are transforming the way we deal with waste.
“Tackling plastic pollution lies at the heart of our efforts, and we have already taken steps to ban microbeads, cut supermarket sales of single-use plastic bags by 95% and prohibit the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds.
“These new changes will further ensure that more of what we consume is recycled and reused. They will stimulate the creation of alternatives to single-use plastics and establish consistent rules to help people recycle more easily across the country.”
The statement adds that proposed action will help the UK “build back better and greener” from the pandemic, and boost global leadership in tackling climate change and plastic pollution.
This also comes as the UK is to host the major climate summit COP26 this year, is president of the G7 and a key player in the UN Biodiversity Conference this autumn (CBD COP15).
The packaging changes are being developed on a UK-wide basis, while the Deposit Return Scheme will cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A separate scheme is already under way in Scotland, and administrations will work to ensure compatibility between the schemes.
Scotland’s environment and climate change secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, said: “In Scotland, we are committed to transitioning towards a net zero society by 2045 and tackling our throwaway culture.
“We have consistently led the way in building a more circular economy. We were the first in the UK to pass legislation introducing a Deposit Return Scheme for single-use drinks cans and bottles, as well as banning plastic-stemmed cotton buds.
“But we also have to tackle the production of materials at source. The Extended Producer Responsibility scheme will help encourage more sustainable packaging design, promote reuse and recycling, and require producers to be part of the solution to dealing with materials at the end of their life.
“It is all part of a truly circular economy, one which presents enormous economic opportunities for Scotland and will help deliver our green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Lesley Griffiths, minister for environment for the Welsh Government, said she is pleased that the joint consultations have progressed, saying both EPR and DRS are fundamental to efforts to boost recycling.
“I look forward to hearing the views of respondents once the consultation is complete”
“As set out in our recently published Beyond Recycling strategy, they are key commitments which support our move to a Circular Economy, as part of our aim to be a zero waste and zero carbon nation by 2050,” she said.
Ms Griffiths added: “I welcome views from all stakeholders on our proposals, and look forward to hearing the views of respondents once the consultation is complete.”
Edwin Poots, minister of agriculture, environment and rural affairs in Northern Ireland, focused on litter.
He said there is a “shocking” 1.3 million items of litter on the streets of Northern Ireland at any one time, and this “needs to be tackled”.
“The consultation on a deposit return scheme builds on overwhelming public support in Northern Ireland for such an initiative, and a well-designed scheme would make it easy for consumers to return drinks containers for recycling and to reduce littering. It can also create high-value, uncontaminated recycling streams which should advantage UK producers and incentivise investment in the sector.
“Extended Producer Responsibility would place full responsibility on producers of packaging and a shift in costs to producers of around £35 million per year – a significant saving to Northern Ireland’s public purse. Modulated fees will be designed to reward producers who use easily recycled packaging and to penalise producers who use hard-to-recycle packaging.”