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Uncertainty over Defra's commingling response

Confusion has arisen over Defra’s announcement that regulations governing commingled kerbside collections will be changed in the face of a legal challenge.

In September the Campaign for Real Recycling was granted a judicial review into whether or not commingled collections should be included in the EU Revised Waste Framework Directive (WFD).

Defra’s interpretation of the directive allows councils to carry on with mixed collections, but CRR claim the use of commingling is “contrary to the wording and the spirit of the WFD”. The case is due to be heard on 13 December in Cardiff.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We’re making technical changes to the legislation to make sure a more inflexible multi-bin recycling system isn’t imposed on residents by the courts or under additional EU rules, while making it crystal clear that the quality of recycling is important.”

But former WRAP director for local government services Phillip Ward said Defra’s statement was “convoluted”. He added: “The question is how can they change the regulations to avoid that while still meeting the directive’s requirement for separate collections?

“The purpose is to promote high quality recycling. That suggests any changes should address the quality of the sorting arrangements associated with commingled collections. That will have important implications for local authorities and MRF operators.”

Andy Moore, CRR co-ordinator, said the group would consult its lawyers before deciding what action to take.

CRR’s stance on separated collections is opposed by the Local Government Association (LGA) and some major waste companies who are concerned over possible increased costs involved in changing to kerbside sorting. According to the LGA 57% of councils collect mixed recyclables from households which are then sorted.

A spokesperson for waste management company Biffa said: “As a services provider to 40 local authorities across the country, Biffa does not see a need to change the wording of the regulations or for the government to incur what could be unnecessary legal costs.”

Matthew Farrow, director of policy at the Environmental Services Association, said: “We agree that local flexibility remains vital. Our members operate both commingled and ‘kerbside sort’ collection systems depending on the preference of their local authority customers and find that, while each system has its own merits, both can deliver high-quality recycling.”

A WRAP spokesperson said: “WRAP’s view has always been that the choice of collection system should be a local decision – taking into account local factors but also giving due consideration to wider national policy, objectives and priorities.”

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