Waste services should be paid for by producers and consumers, not from shrinking local authority budgets, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (Larac) has said.
In a series of radical proposals, the organisation said this could usher in a “second golden age” for household recycling by changing the balance between local government and industry funding.
It said council tax could not sustain the infrastructure needed for effective recycling given the other demands made on it, such as education and social care.
Larac chair Carole Taylor(pictured) said: “The achievement of local authorities in the past 10 years in raising recycling rates to current levels have come at great expense to them.
“Millions of pounds of public money are used each year to build and run these services but, after years of austerity, the current funding model is no longer fit for purpose.
“We need to decouple the provision of waste services from council tax and move it to something that the supply chain and users are responsible for.”
In a policy paper The Future of Local Authority Waste Funding, Larac said it wanted an industry-wide debate on the future of funding followed by agreement on policies to provide “a second ‘golden age’ of recycling from households to match that in the 1990s and 2000s”.
But it rejected as ineffective expansion of reward schemes, an incineration tax and the imposition of statutory targets.
Larac said that high recycling levels of household waste would be impossible to achieve under the current finance system, and that while the industry was looking more closely at producer responsibility, it had been “silent on how funds would be channelled into the kerbside, bring and waste recycling centre infrastructure that local authorities have built up”.
Producer responsibility has been based on achieving targets at the lowest cost to businesses, leaving the public sector to pay for most of the materials collected for recycling, Larac complained.
It said it expected “some difficult conversations”, but warned: “Without fundamental change, the UK will not be able to meet high recycling levels and local services will continue to shrink.
“It is time to look at how we decouple provision of waste services from being considered ‘what council tax pays for’, and move it to something that producers and users are responsible for.”
Larac called for charging for household waste at source, with higher fees for residual waste and lower or zero charges for recyclables.
It condemned the packaging recovery note system for producer compliance schemes as allowing producers to evade the cost of recovery of their packaging, “shifting the burden to local authorities at a cost of approximately £600m a year”.
There should instead be a revised packaging compliance system that should ”reflect holistic cradle-to-grave lifecycle costs, providing a balance between the burdens on business and the public sector and encourage local investment”.
There was an urgent need for major producer responsibility reform “that sees producers funding more than [the current] 10% of the costs of household waste and that properly promotes designing with recyclability in mind”, the paper noted.
A deposit return scheme for bottles of the kind proposed last month by environment secretary Michael Gove should be designed to ensure it did not compete with local authority kerbside collections of most materials concerned.
Low priority proposals included material taxes being targeted towards products with a high environmental impact or low recyclability, and advance disposal fees for products with a short lifespan.
Courses of action rejected by Larac included an incineration tax, saying this would require a cost-effective recycling market and a closed market for refuse-derived fuel.
It dismissed reward schemes as “expensive to deliver with little long-term effect”.
Statutory targets were rejected because, even with accompanying funding, these were “unlikely to be sufficient to cover the true costs and will place further strains on other services”.
Larac: The Future of Local Authority Waste Funding
High priority proposals
- Direct charging for household waste at source
- A packaging compliance system to reflect cradle-to-grave costs, with more being met by producers
- Providing easy to understand information such as on-pack labelling to reduce contamination
- Deposit return schemes
- Taxes on materials or products
- Advance disposal fees
- Adoption of consistent collection systems
- Compulsory recycling, though this should be a local option
- Incineration tax
- Making reward schemes a priority
- Statutory targets