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Councils call for independent oversight of EPR funds

Council chiefs have called for the creation of an independent body to distribute funding raised by the Government’s proposed extended producer responsibility (EPR) regime.

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (Adept) said a ‘transparent moderating organisation’ was required to administer the anticipated scheme.

When the resources and waste strategy for England was published last month, ministers promised to “ensure producers pay the full net costs of managing packaging waste at end of life”.

Now Adept has published its response in a policy paper, which says a ‘simple’ scheme is required to make EPR work in practice. 

“The mechanism for councils to recover costs from producers must be fair and transparent, taking into account key variables such as demographics and whether their area is urban or rural,” said the membership body.

Resources minister Therese Coffey was recently informed that packaging producers want to see a return on their potential £600m investment into local authority recycling through a reformed packaging recovery note (PRN) system.

Adept – which has a dozen local enterprise partnership members as well as hundreds of county, unitary and metropolitan council chiefs – made a range of recommendations to the Government in its paper. It argued that mandatory collections of separated food waste – pledged by ministers by 2023 – should not be enforced until adequate funding was in place.

“Separate collections of food waste add additional cost and can be complex to deliver. Adept advocates against a one-size-fits-all approach to food waste unless and until councils receive appropriate support and funding,” said the report.

“We believe councils should be free to decide themselves on the balance of cost and benefit for separate food waste collections, depending on local circumstances.”

The strategy promised a consultation to ”explore whether households with gardens should have access to free garden waste collections”. But Adept made it clear that it ”does not support proposals to remove the ability of councils to charge for the collection of garden waste”.

It also called for caution regarding another measure mooted by ministers subject to consultation: the introduction of a deposit return scheme across England for single-use drinks containers.

Adept said it supported such as scheme as long as the focus was ”targeting consumers on the go”, adding that a kerbside scheme would be “unnecessary” if EPR rules worked properly.

“We are concerned that a requirement to target householders could undermine the effectiveness of council-operated schemes.”

The resources and waste strategy also threatened the introduction of a tax on the incineration of waste if its “wider policy objectives” fail to boost recycling rates.

Adept hit back saying it “strongly believes that the case for an incineration tax cannot be justified”, adding that such a levy could be counterproductive by making landfill more attractive.

The organisation called for a fundamental review of how waste services are managed.

President Neil Gibson said: “Local authorities have to make tough decisions about where budget is spent. However, in order to continue to provide the waste and recycling services that the public expect, current systems need to change.”

Adept wants to see greater investment in waste processing capacity.

Paula Hewitt, chair of the organisation’s environment board, said: “Increasing our own ability to reprocess recyclables is essential if we truly want to create a circular economy in the UK.

“We have to reduce our reliance on overseas markets for managing waste and recyclables. Energy-from-waste technology offers both energy security and a reduction in the environmental impact of transporting our waste abroad.

“If properly resourced and implemented, the range of measures that are considered in the Government’s strategy will contribute greatly to growing a green economy, but we will continue to resist extra burdens being placed on hard-pressed local authorities.”

Waste chiefs supported Adept’s wide-ranging response to the Government paper.

Amey business director David Ogden said: “The policy paper maintains the focus on local authorities remaining as the guiding role in the delivery of waste management services, but operating within a clearer policy and governance framework.

“We’re acutely aware of the role we must all play to make the best use of resources across their lifecycle.”

Veolia chief technology and innovation officer Richard Kirkman said: “Adept’s policy position highlights that the Government has listened to local authorities and industry in its resources and waste strategy.

“The stage is set for success if funds are delivered in the right place – to those that implement policy – and a simple system developed. The next critical step is to engage in the upcoming consultations to ensure that packaging is more recyclable, is collected more consistently and, ultimately, more recyclable material is reprocessed into new products.

“As an investor in the UK, Veolia is ready to take advantage of new technology, build more infrastructure and work with local authorities to harness resources on an industrial scale. The rest of the supply chain needs to play its part too.”

FCC Environment group chief executive Paul Taylor said Adept’s response “reflects the views of many of us from across the sector”.

“Adept is right to highlight that the planned interventions in EPR, increasing processing capacity and many other initiatives are major steps forward.

“While we know the strategy will have significant implications for local recycling and waste collection and sustainability, the detail will largely be revealed in future policy consultations. So there is now much work to be done to turn the Government’s ambition into a reality – and the Adept policy paper is good starting point.”

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