The BBC reported yesterday evening (19 September) that Rishi Sunak is considering weakening some of the government’s key green commitments in a major policy shift, to be set out in a leaked speech this week.
According to the report, while “specifics of the speech are still thought to be under discussion”, as many as seven core policy changes or commitments could be stopped.
This included plans to rule out “what he sees as burdensome recycling schemes”, with consistent recycling plans mentioned. The future of extended producer responsibility (EPR) and the deposit return scheme (DRS) is unclear.
News of the delay will be greeted with dismay by large parts of the industry, who have been taking steps to prepare for the legislation being implemented.
However, it will come as little surprise.
Defra first consulted on consistency plans in 2019, before launching a second consultation in 2021. The response to this has been pushed back several times since then and rumours that it may be watered down or cancelled have been gathering pace.
Earlier this year, ahead of the local elections, plans to publish the response were also halted over fears it would be unpopular with residents, amid several reports of “seven bins” in the national press, which alarmed the sector (see letsrecycle.com story).
The department has also faced mounting government pressure not to implement procedures which could add to taxpayers cost during the cost of living crisis.
And, with an election set for next year, there have also been some suggestions that the government could further delay much of the Resources and Waste Strategy to focus on its core policies.
EPR has progressed a fair bit more, with payments due for next year. This will be more shocking if it is pushed back.
The DRS and consistency however are much less advanced and could thus face the chop.
Defra has insisted that the consistency response is due “soon”, and even last week the department’s permanent secretary, Tamara Finkelstein, said the response was due “very imminently” (see letsrecycle.com story).
On the consultation page, Defra says: “We expect to publish a full government response to this consultation in early 2023.”
It’s important to note at this stage that plans to shelve consistency are not confirmed, and they could be delayed or watered down. It is also unclear the future of other schemes such as the deposit return scheme or extended producer responsibility.
Earlier this year, Sunak said in parliament that industry has raised concerns over EPR directly with him, but stopped short of saying the programme will be delayed (see letsrecycle.com story).
Early responses online to the news from industry figures has expectedly been negative.
Paul Sanderson, chief executive of the Recycling Association, said the news will be “massively disappointing” if true .
This is massively disappointing if true. Although we’ll need to see the detail, those of us in the recycling sector will be especially upset that the vital changes we’ve been waiting for on EPR and consistency look set to be savaged https://t.co/mFUC83qg1i
— Paul Sanderson (@PaulProject111) September 19, 2023
Ray Georgeson, head of policy, impact and evaluation for Zero Waste Scotland, added his frustration at talks of “burdensome” recycling plans.
leaked talk of “burdensome #recycling schemes” makes me spit. He might find that the #climatecrisis is a bit more “burdensome” than asking folk to sort a few recyclables out & put out their food waste for processing for biogas! #NetZero
— Ray Georgeson ♻️🌍 (@raygeorgeson) September 19, 2023
In a rare move, the PM issued a statement in response to the leak.
This said: “No leak will stop me beginning the process of telling the country how and why we need to change.
“As a first step, I’ll be giving a speech this week to set out an important long-term decision we need to make so our country becomes the place I know we all want it to be for our children.
“For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade offs. Instead they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all.”