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Councils ask for funding commitment on food waste services

Councils have called on Defra to guarantee long-term funding for mandatory food waste collections in a response to Defra’s consultation on consistency in household and business recycling collections in England. 

In its response to Defra’s consultation on household collections in England, which closed on 13 May, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (Larac) said its members are concerned that introducing mandatory food waste services could be “cost prohibitive” for some councils.

Larac said that such a scheme could only work if there is “long-term guaranteed funding to cover any additional cost burdens” to ensure funding is not diverted from other essential services.

The Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA) has called for universal weekly food waste collections for all households and businesses with proper local authority funding, saying that not all food waste can be eliminated. It has added that if such a scheme were introduced, more AD capacity would be needed.

ADBA chief executive Charlotte Morton said: “Only the introduction of separate food waste collections for all households and businesses will ensure that as much inedible food waste as possible is captured for recycling through AD and diverted from incineration and landfill.

“It is also widely acknowledged that food waste collections reduce the amount of edible food thrown away by making it more visible – given the resources involved in producing food, this is the biggest benefit of separately collecting food waste.

“As well as sufficient financial and educational resourcing for councils to ensure that food waste collections are affordable and effective, it is vital for ministers to now provide fresh support for the AD plants that will be needed to recycle the increased food waste that will become available as a result of universal collections – even with our collective best efforts to reduce food waste, it cannot be eliminated and it remains a valuable resource that needs to be recycled.”

Larac also criticised proposals for universal free garden waste collections, saying that its members were “very strong in their rejection” of this idea and believed it could divert resources.

Members felt that charged-for services were working well and would still contribute to the 65% recycling rate target. Larac has told Defra that it does not feel the proposal has been “fully considered” and has only focused on recycling tonnages.

Larac chair Carole Taylor said: “Through our surveys and workshops, there was a very strong message from our members that nationwide, free garden waste collections was a backwards step.

“Our members told us that garden waste is not going in the residual bin and they are achieving good returns through charged for systems. By allowing charges, it frees up central funding to support other aspects of the collections system. Food waste collections are one area where that funding could be used, with local authorities supportive of fully funded food waste collections.” 

While Larac has said it offers “broad support” for the proposals in the consistency of collections consultation, it has raised concerns about what it describes as the “prescriptive nature of the proposals” on such systems.

The committee argued that, under waste regulations, local authorities are already required to separately collect paper/card, plastic, glass and metals, where it is practical under TEEP.

Larac argued that all three collections systems currently provided quality materials, and that it supported systems designed for local circumstance. The committee has told Defra it is more appropriate for objectives to be “output driven” with the method for achieving this left to the discretion of the council.

Larac also said it might support the principle of statutory guidance because it could assist with stable, longer term planning by minimising political influences with changes in elections. But it wanted reassurances that these would be flexible to allow authorities to suit the service to local areas.

Non-binding performance indicators were also broadly supported by Larac members, as long as they were designed to encourage positive performance. But they felt single performance standards would not always be appropriate and some would need to be tailored to local factors.

While there could be “marginal benefits” in standardised bin colours, it would be lengthy and costly to implement. Larac said it was not aware of any stats indicating the financial benefits in making such a change.

However, plans to increased funding for national communications were welcomed, as were proposals to mandate use of the on-pack recycling label.

What the Resources Association says about the consistency consultation:

“High-quality recyclate should be central to the entire strategy for consistency, without this there is the danger that we carry on with the notion of ‘convenience’ as the driver without proper recognition of the essential needs of the actual end user of materials – the reprocessor.

“Both convenience and consistency can be achieved with well-designed separate collection systems (both dual and multi-stream, with paper and card always collected separately from other materials) and full attention must be given to explaining the importance of the end user in recycling to the public.

“UK infrastructure for reprocessing can further develop, based on the guarantee of consistent high-quality recyclate. Without this, there will be limitations - but clearly where the feedstock is good and consistent, investment will follow.”

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