Resources & Waste Strategy: The devil is in the detail and 2021 is the year of detail

Jacob Hayler, Mar 4, 2021

Jacob Hayler, ESA Executive Director, looks at what it will take to achieve the next step-change in our national journey towards higher recycling rates and how the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy must make up for lost time during the pandemic.

With support from various stakeholders, Defra officials have been developing the core RWS policies,looking at the detail and addressing key questions:Fighting the coronavirus pandemic rightly continues to dominate the agenda of politicians and policy> makers as we enter the new year, but 2021 must now also be a productive year for Defra’s Resources & Waste Strategy (RWS) if the Government wishes to implement these flagship environmental policy instruments on their original timeline.

  • How to best implement an extended producer responsibility (EPR) regime;
  • How to harmonise recycling and waste collection services across England
  • How to implement a deposit return scheme for packaging.

The ESA has long supported the RWS and we believe that, if implemented correctly, these policies will mark a step-change in our national recycling ambitions and unlock the next phase of circular economy investment by our sector over the next two decades. However, as we have said before, the devil is in the detail and it is imperative that these policies all work together in perfect symbiosis to avoid unintended consequences, inflated costs to businesses and tax-payers, and market distortions which fail to deliver a better environmental outcome and hinder the sector’s productivity.

Defra will formally consult with stakeholders and the public in its second-stage consultations, and we expect a detailed set of options for each of the main policy pillars to be presented for comprehensive feedback. As such, the ESA has convened working groups of experts from among its membership to examine and ponder each of the RWS pillars, which will inform our formal positions and responses in due course.  

One of the biggest sticking points on extended producer responsibility for packaging, for example,  remains how to include packaging waste from businesses within the new system. This is a far more complicated area than household collections and Defra officials are exploring several possible options for how it could be delivered in practice. At this stage, ESA’s preferred option is for a per-tonne payment system whereby commercial collectors are compensated for the business packaging they collect for recycling and the original waste producers are reimbursed accordingly. 

In the same vein, looking at the impact of the collection-consistency pillar on business, we understand that Defra is still considering a “zoning” model, among other options, to facilitate consistent collections of household-like waste from businesses. Under this model, tenders would be run to award local monopolies for packaging waste collections and we believe that such a system would have grave consequences for commercial waste collections and could eliminate most smaller players from the market. While we don’t anticipate that this will necessarily be presented for consultation as a favoured format, we continue to make representations to Defra on alternative solutions which we believe will better achieve the intended outcomes without penalising business.

These consultations represent the final word our sector is likely to have before these policies are finalised and implemented, and it is the recycling and waste management industry that will be responsible for turning the intent of these policies into reality, so it is essential that our views are well considered and that our collective voices are heard.

If you wish to provide any further information to help inform the ESA response to these consultations, or wish to discuss anything further, please do get in touch on our Contact Us page