Delays to a crucial court hearing have prolonged the uncertainty surrounding waste collection methods prompting warnings that waste companies and councils could be open to legal challenges.
As MRW exclusively revealed on its website, the Judicial Review (JR) into the waste regulations on collections was further held up when Defra sought to postpone the hearing for a second time.
The High Court had been expected to hear the case on 13 June but Defra told MRW it was seeking “a short extension” to the existing pause through discussions with the claimants, the Campaign for Real Recycling.
A senior industry figure said the next crucial step in resolving the prolonged legal battle would be when the European Commission published guidance on the European Revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD).
Former WRAP and Defra official Phillip Ward said the delay suggested Defra was pinning its hopes on the EC guidance “broadening the loophole in the earlier draft suggesting that commingled collection may be acceptable”.
Writing in MRW, he added local authorities and waste companies would be open to legal challenge for their interpretation of the guidance.
The JR was first delayed for six months in December 2011 after the Government said it would make a fresh attempt at transposing the rWFD.
Defra’s consultation on proposed amendments closed in April but a spokesman told MRW the department was still finalising its proposals.
The proposed amendment would mean commingled collections could continue only where separate collections were not “technically, environmentally and economically practicable” (‘TEEP’) or necessary to meet “appropriate quality standards”.
A Defra spokesman said the department expected to begin consulting on guidance on TEEP in the autumn.
He added: “We continue to press the EC to publish its final guidance on rWFD but no timeframe has been set.”
The Resource Association (RA), representing reprocessors, voiced considerable opposition in their submissions to Defra said the proposed amendments do not adequately transpose the requirements of the rWFD.
The RA called on Defra to consider reverting to the exact wording of the rWFD or review the approach of the Scottish Government where commingling has a role only if quality meets the same standards as separately collected material.
It said it was concerned the amendment switched the wording of the rWFD from ‘necessary’ to ‘appropriate’ quality standard – reprocessors believe this hands decisions on quality standards to waste management companies.
The RA said this created “uncertainty and confusion in the recycling chain” and diminished the importance of quality standards.