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Waste sector reacts to Efra recommendations

The waste and recycling sector’s leading lights have reacted to the findings of the Efra Committee’s report into waste management in England.

As many predicted when giving their evidence, it highlights the risk of England not meeting 2020 recycling targets. Here, MRW rounds up reactions to the report.

David Palmer-Jones SITA

David Palmer-Jones, SITA UK chief executive and ESA chairman

“It is gratifying that without exception the written and verbal evidence presented to the EFRA Select Committee’s Inquiry into Waste Management in England has supported our sector’s contention that Defra’s announcement of its intention to “step back” from waste policy work was ill-conceived and premature. The wide-ranging conclusions drawn by the Committee emphasise that much remains for Defra to do, taking ownership of and leading a joined-up approach to resource policy across all Government departments.

The Inquiry has identified actions along the entire waste management chain, actions that only be driven by central government. Key among these are the need to harmonise waste collection and recycling systems particularly with respect to food waste, the re-imposition of recycling targets for all local authorities alongside financial support to meet them, and driving recyclable materials out of landfill in order for the UK to reach 70% recycling by 2030 regardless of whether formal targets are in place.

In the shorter term, the inquiry shares our sector’s concern that England will fail to meet its 50% household waste recycling target by 2020, and urges Defra to realign its policy levers to address the potential shortfall. Above all, the Inquiry agrees with our sector that Defra’s lack of ambition and drive will hinder England’s ability to unlock the significant economic and social benefits that greater resource efficiency can deliver.”

Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the Resource Association

“We congratulate the EFRA Committee on a strong analysis and clear recommendations that we support. We note in particular that the committee has asked Defra to reconsider statutory recycling targets for local authorities - this is an important recommendation and reflects the urgency with which the achievement of 2020 recycling targets needs to be addressed afresh.

We welcome the committee’s acknowledgement that much more needs to be done to communicate regularly and effectively with the public to raise recycling rates, and to address public confidence in the recycling process and understanding of where recycling goes. Our End Destination of Recycling Charter has played a role, but we wholeheartedly welcome the committee’s recommendation that statutory reporting of end destination is required.

At the very least, we invite ministers to echo the response of officials in their evidence by extending greater public support to the charter and we extend an open invitation to Dan Rogerson to meet us and charter signatories to explore ways of extending the reach of the charter.”

Dan Cooke, director of external affairs, Viridor

“This important report should be a real wake-up call for the UK Government and the sector.  Whilst recycling has been a real UK success story to date, the decision to ask Defra to take a back seat was a mistake. There is broad consensus that we need to keep our foot on the waste policy accelerator. 

Whilst it¹s right that innovation and investment is led by a vibrant private sector, the reality is that waste management is also a vital public service. As such it needs a balance of leadership and smart, enabling policy, particularly in relation to delivering social infrastructure, along with effective regulation.

After recycling it’s right to focus on the vital role of UK energy recovery as a key part of landfill diversion, including moves to address the shortfall in UK capacity. It’s also right to check the unrestrained export of UK resources, with growing concern regarding the lack of standards and enforcement. In 2013/14 UK exporters of refuse derived fuel shipped over 2m tonnes of British resources overseas. The cost to the UK was up to £192m with the loss of energy resource capable of powering over 312,000 British homes or circa 1.3% of the UK population.  

If we aim truly to see waste as a resource, why or when is it sensible for UK taxpayers to pay for the privilege of powering industry in Dutch and German cities as opposed to heating homes and helping business here in our own country? It’s a Jekyll and Hyde policy of lost opportunities for UK energy security, jobs and investment.”

Jacob Hayler, ESA economist

“ESA welcomes the Efra Committee’s wide-ranging report. There is a growing consensus that England could struggle to meet its household recycling targets. The Government must listen to the committee before it’s too late and support local authorities in delivering the services we need to drive up recycling rates across the country.

At the same time, we shouldn’t overlook the need to invest in more domestic energy recovery jobs and infrastructure. Far too much waste still goes either to landfill or overseas. We should be exploiting this valuable energy resource to light and heat our homes and businesses.”

Shlomo Dowen, national coordinator of the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN)

“I commend the calls for maximising recycling, its recognition that put-or-pay clauses in incinerator contracts can undermine incentives to recycle, and the committee’s recommendation that there should be a moratorium on the incineration of recyclable waste.

Efra cited our criticism of Government inconsistencies, quoting: ‘The pro-recycling message is being undermined by perverse financial incentives to incinerate and compost material that should not be…the Department for Communities and Local Government allows planning consent for incinerators that go against Government policies on climate change, energy efficiency and waste hierarchy’.

The report calls for a minister to be responsible for a consistent approach from the Government, and UKWIN hopes that this will bring an end to harmful incinerator subsidies and an end to the baffling investments from the Green Investment Bank in incinerator projects that are far from green.

Many long-term waste management contracts include ‘put-or-pay’ clauses requiring local authorites to pay for incineration capacity even if they do not use it, reducing their financial incentive to recycle and the report notes: “When we asked the minister how the Government ensures that only genuinely residual waste is sent to incinerators, he told us that the key pressure is gate fees - i.e. the charge that must be paid to dispose of waste in an incineration facility. However, we are concerned about the effectiveness of this singular mechanism following evidence we received about ‘put or pay contracts’ and negative impacts on recycling rates.”

John Twitchen, Copper Consultancy

“Clearly there is an issue with making further progress towards the current recycling target, let alone any future aspirations. We’ve spent hundreds of millions on bins, bags, boxes, shiny trucks, large sheds and fancy conveyor belts. But all we’ve really done is make it a little bit easier for more people to recycle more often. Surprise surprise, not everyone is recycling everything.

Bizarrely, we’ve also managed to make it virtually impossible to communicate meaningfully and cost-effectively on a regional or national scale, by ending up with 400 different systems, and only the bare minimum in terms of local swoosh harmony.

The Efra report is weak in the communications section and skims over some big issues. Some of the evidence cited repeats the same old stuff. Before a wholesale change in behaviour is truly possible, attitudes have to be tackled. This takes sustained revenue (hundreds of thousands, not hundreds of millions), and government, local authorities and collectors need to get real about this. It’s no good scratching the surface when the issues are deep-rooted.

The report is also weak on the socio-economic case. The signs are there, but there’s barely even a mention of the one element of current waste policy that promises a great deal: public sector procurement. Crack on!”

Jane Bevis, chair of On-Pack Recycling Label, a subsidiary of the British Retail Consortium

“We completely endorse the committee’s conclusions on the need to give consumers clear guidance on recycling, and to reinforce that advice again and again. The On-Pack Recycling Label does just that, providing detailed information on each element of packaging so that consumers know whether to put it in the recycling bin or out with the waste. Over 160 companies use our label on their packaging and this widespread use means six in 10 consumers now recognise it.

The committee acknowledges the 400 different recycling systems across England cause confusion, particularly for those working or travelling in, or moving to, different areas. This confusion undermines confidence and motivation. Recycling rates are only 12% in some local authority areas, whereas best practice can achieve 67% where simple, well communicated systems engage consumers. The On-Pack Recycling Label reinforces this effort by re-assuring consumers that individual items of packaging can and should be recycled.

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