The Government's Resources and Waste Strategy - Blog

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Friday 18th January 2019

Released in December 2018 by the Environment Secretary Micheal Gove, the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy seeks to redress the balance in favour of the natural world. Moving towards a more circular economy, it aims for us to keep resources in use for longer. The strategy will help us meet the commitments of the 25 Year Environment Plan, through a series of consultations on problematic areas.

What’s it all about?

The long-awaited strategy focusses on several issues with ambitious solutions which will:

  • Reduce our reliance on single-use plastics
  • Cut confusion over household recycling
  • Tackle packaging problems
  • End the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste
  • Tackle the issue of waste crime

At a glance

1.Sustainable production

The Government is keen to encourage producers to redesign their products and become more efficient in the way we use natural resources to make products. To do this, they propose placing a greater responsibility on those who place products on the market, i.e. invoking a ‘polluter pays’ principle.

To stimulate demand for using recycled plastics, the Government will be introducing a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycling plastic. This tax was announced in the 2018 Budget and will apply from 2022. Businesses will have until then to adapt their operations and manage any associated costs.

Packaging reform is an immediate priority. The Government will be launching a consultation in 2019 to assess the packaging waste regulations, with their intention to legislate by 2021, and be operational by 2023. The current regulations do not sufficiently incentivise design for reuse and recyclability.

They will also consult on improving producer responsibility for waste electrical and electronic equipment batteries and end of life vehicles, incentivising sustainable product design and increasing recycling. This consultation will take place by the end of 2020.

2.Helping consumers make sustainable choices

The average lifespan of many of the products we buy is lower than it was 20 years ago. The Government want to help consumers choose and use sustainable products, which is better for their pockets and the environment. They plan to:

  • Provide consumers with better information on the products they are buying, through better labelling and information
  • Incentivising sustainable purchasing, such as extending and increasing the plastic carrier bag charge
  • Ban plastic products where there are better alternatives, such as drinking straws and cotton buds
  • More reuse, repair and remanufacture, through extended warranties and working with third-sector organisations

3.Resource recovery and waste management

‘Waste is a costly misuse of our natural resources.’

There is an increasing need to drive better quantity and quality in recycling in the UK. The strategy proposes several mechanisms to build a stronger recycling market and reduce avoidable waste.

The Government will act to ensure that businesses present recycling and food waste separately from residual waste. They will build comprehensive and frequent waste collection systems that capture more recyclables

4.Tackling waste crime

Waste-related crime costs our economy hundreds of millions of pounds each year. Illegally dumping or exporting waste and undermining legitimate businesses by disposing waste cheaply are both too common practices.  By tackling these issues, the Government will ensure that resources are properly recovered and fed back into the economy.

The dedicated chapter proposes toughening penalties for waste crime, increasing the awareness of waste regulations and reforming existing regulations. 

5.Cutting down food waste

It is estimated that 10 million tonnes of food and drink is wasted annually in the UK (2015). Food waste costs us money and is environmentally damaging.

Gove proposes setting mandatory food waste targets as well as annual reporting. There will be a consultation on both, where businesses of an ‘appropriate size’ (not defined) will have to set targets and report on their food waste on an annual basis. Food redistribution obligations will be also be looked into.

Even the most efficient food systems will produce a surplus, the best outcome for this is redistribution. A key initiative to help create less food waste from businesses is a £15 million pilot fund. Charities and not-for-profit groups will be receiving funds to expand their operations to help distribute some 200,000 tonnes of food that WRAP identified could be redistributed in the UK. The scheme will be developed in collaboration with businesses and charities for a launch date in 2019.

The Government also wants to make it easier for consumers to waste less food.

  • They will work with industry to improve labelling, such as best before vs use by dates
  • Advise retailers whether to sell fresh produce loose or packaged and explore options for a plastic-free supermarket aisle
  • Support WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste platform and encourage businesses to promote food waste prevention

Overall, the Government has committed to reducing food waste by 20% by 2025, of those figures in 2015.

6.International Leadership

The unsustainable use of resources is international, with 7 billion people globally using and disposing of resources every day. It is therefore a key aim for the Government to promote international coordinated actions to address these issues.

The Government will promote the goals of the Resources and Waste Strategy internationally and support other poorer nations to reduce waste through UK aid and partnerships.

They also commit to a ‘green’ Brexit whereby we will take back control of environmental legislation in the UK and enhance it. 

7.Research and innovation

Research and innovation play a key role in helping the UK move towards a more circular economy. The Government has committed to investing in various areas of resource efficiency such as waste infrastructure, tracking and reporting of food waste and plastic alternatives.

Starting in 2019, the Government will also be launching a call for evidence on the development of standards for bio-based and biodegradable plastics. This is because there is no one way to use and dispose them, and if consumers dispose of them in the wrong stream, it presents issues with contamination rates.

They will also continue to work closely with WRAP, and have provided a £9.35 million fund to deliver three key programmes:

  1. Food and drink focusing on household food waste and the Courtauld 2025 voluntary agreement.
  2. Waste and resources management focusing on increasing recycling rates and the quality of recycling, plus work to reduce avoidable plastic waste.
  3. Clothing, focusing on driving resource efficiency and waste prevention through a collaborative agreement with the clothing sector (the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan).

8. Measuring progress

High quality data is an essential component of effective policymaking and providing clear insights into behaviours. In this last chapter the Government highlight the need to improve data on materials, which is currently patchy and unreliable.

They propose moving away from weight-based targets and moving towards impact-based targets and reporting. This is because some lightweight materials have large environmental footprint, whilst some heavier materials have smaller footprints. They also want to move away from a focus on ‘waste’ to a shift towards ‘resources’.

Finally, they have committed to regularly updating the data on residual waste. They will combine data from composition studies, waste tracking systems and data collected by the Environment Agency to generate reliable data on the amounts and types of commercial waste. 

What do the industry experts think?

There have been mixed reactions to the latest strategy, with many welcoming the new framework but some criticising it for a lack of immediacy.

 “The government appears to be kicking the waste can down the road yet again. The plastic bottle deposit return scheme promised in 2018 won’t be ready until 2023… textile waste piling up in landfill won’t be tackled until even later. With scientists warning we have just 12 years to tackle climate change, this strategy is too little, too slowly.” Mary Creagh, Chair of the environmental audit committee.

The new strategy serves as an early warning for many businesses who may be required to change their operation, but also presents some interesting opportunities.

We will be keeping up-to-date on the outcome of consultations throughout the year. For more information or to read the full report head here.

Jessica Parrilla

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