Waste services are local matters that should be decided at local level rather than by central government diktat. This is the key message from the Government’s comprehensive review of waste policy and delivery in England, published on 14 June 2011, that sets out actions and commitments on working towards a zero waste economy.

The Review was set up in June 2010 to look at the most effective ways of reducing waste, maximising the money to be made from waste and recycling, and how waste policies affect local communities and individual households.  It focuses on household and business waste, and does not cover hazardous waste nor mining and quarrying waste.

A “zero waste economy” is one in which material resources are re-used, recycled or recovered wherever possible, and where disposal in landfill is the option of very last resort. The guiding principle for the Review was the waste hierarchy - this is a legal requirement of the revised EU Waste Framework Directive, and gives top priority to waste prevention, followed by preparing for re-use, then recycling, other types of recovery (including energy recovery), and last of all disposal (e.g. landfill).

Key actions

The Review’s actions and commitments on working towards a zero waste economy build on previous policy and initiatives, so there are few surprises.

The Review’s key points are: 

  • help for local communities to develop fit for purpose local solutions for collecting and dealing with household waste, and working with councils to meet households’ reasonable expectations for weekly collections, particularly of smelly waste; 
  • an integrated approach to waste prevention, re-use and recycling that prioritises prevention while seeking to re-use and recycle as much as possible of the waste which does arise; at the very least meeting the Revised Waste Framework Directive target to recycle 50% of waste from households by 2020; 
  • working with local councils to increase the frequency and quality of rubbish collections and making it easier to recycle, and to tackle measures which encourage councils specifically to cut the scope of collections; 
  • where it makes sense to do so, household and business waste materials should be collected and treated together; 
  • abolition of the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme from 2013, as it is no longer considered an effective tool to ensure delivery of the EU landfill targets; 
  • WRAP will monitor service levels to understand whether and how they are changing, keeping the quality, affordability and frequency of household waste collections under review; 
  • voluntary responsibility deals with business in a range of sectors, including hospitality, retail, direct mail, textiles, construction waste and packaging, to drive waste reduction and greater recycling; 
  • support for businesses, local authorities and third sector organisations to help reduce avoidable food waste; 
  • there will be a consultation in 2012 on introducing a restriction on the landfilling of wood waste, and the Government will review the case for restrictions on sending other materials to landfill over the course of the Parliament, including looking specifically at textiles and biodegradable waste; 
  • councils will be encouraged to sign up to the new Recycling and Waste Services Commitment; 
  • removal of barriers to energy from waste technologies, with a guide to energy from waste to help all involved make decisions best suited to their specific requirements and incentives are to support the development of recovery infrastructure as a renewable energy source; and 
  • working with all parties to help reduce commercial barriers to the effective financing of infrastructure.

Next steps

The report is accompanied by a detailed Action Plan that sets out the timetable for the 62 action points. The Government states that it will now work closely with local government, businesses and civil society in driving this work forward to set priorities and monitor action, with a progress report in March 2012.

A fuller Waste Prevention Programme for England will be published by the end of 2013, which will continue the progress towards a zero waste economy by setting out detailed actions to enable better resource efficiency and waste prevention, and address any further EU obligations under the revised Waste Framework Directive.

What it means – three thoughts

The Review will be seen by some in the waste industry as a missed opportunity. The failure to raise the bar in relation to recycling targets (as seen by the waste strategies for Wales and Scotland) but leaving it at 50% is unlikely to help meet the overall aim of a “zero waste economy”.

The decision not to impose a weekly collection regime will be welcomed by local authorities. Many collection authorities have been moving to an alternative weekly collection regime in an effort to save costs and improve recycling rates. Reverting to a weekly system would have been viewed as a sign of going backwards rather than forwards.

Finally, the focus on the importance of managing commercial and business waste streams will be welcomed by the waste sector. The introduction of a voluntary industry code and a drive to help businesses and the waste sector increase the recycling of such waste streams is positive news.    

Bevan Brittan has a specialist Waste and Energy team that advises local authorities and the waste industry on all aspects of waste management, disposal and energy generation. If you would like any further information or advice on this area, please contact Nadeem Arshad or Christopher Jarman.