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Resources and waste consultations finally launched by Whitehall

The Government has launched four much-anticipated major consultations as part of the resources and waste strategy.

These cover a deposit return scheme (DRS) for cans and bottles, imposing a consistent set of materials to be collected for recycling across England, extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging and the operation of the proposed plastics tax.

It has done so despite a warning last week from the food and drink industry that its members could not cope with the demands of these consultations on top of the uncertainty of Brexit.

All consultations run until 13 May, and the results will be reflected in an Environment Bill due to go to Parliament later this year.

Environment secretary Michael Gove said: “We are committed to going further and faster to reduce, reuse, recycle and cut waste. That’s why we are leading the way to move away from being a throw-away society and drive up domestic recycling.

“Through our plans, we will introduce a world-leading tax to boost recycled content in plastic packaging, make producers foot the bill for handling their packaging waste and end the confusion over household recycling.”

Proposals for the DRS consultation centre on two options to increase the recycling of an estimated three billion plastic bottles incinerated, sent to landfill or discarded.

The first is an ‘all-in’ model, which would target beverages placed on the market, irrespective of container size. The second option, named ‘on-the-go’, would affect only containers of less than 750ml and sold singly.

Consultation on a consistent recycling collection system involves determining a core set of materials to be collected by every local authority in England, which could include plastic bottles and plastic pots, tubs and trays, glass bottles and jars, paper, card and metal packaging.

It said household recycling had reached 45.2% in 2017 but had since stalled, and some councils did not collect the full range of materials or offer separate food waste collections.

“Householders who want to recycle more are increasingly confused about what can be recycled,” Defra noted, adding, “apart from landfill tax…there are very few current drivers to encourage local authorities to expand recycling services or for businesses to invest in recycling services.”

China’s ban on most plastic and paper imports “has also added to the need to improve the quality of what is collected for recycling and to reduce contamination”, Defra said.

The consultation on EPR for packaging calls for the costs of recycling to be borne by producers.

It said they currently paid only around 10%, and increasing this to 100% would “incentivise producers to think carefully about using less packaging and to switch to using packaging that is easier to recycle”.

The consultation covers ways to improve existing schemes for cars, electrical goods and batteries, and potential new ones including textiles, fishing gear, tyres, some construction and demolition materials, mattresses, furniture and carpets.

Defra said stakeholders had “expressed concerns about the transparency of the system, including how income from the sale of evidence has supported packaging waste recycling; that local authorities receive limited direct financial support for managing packaging waste; and that there is not a level playing field for domestic reprocessing”.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the plastics packaging tax in his Budget last autumn and HM Treasury has launched a consultation on how this would work.

The tax would affect packaging that does not have at least 30% recycled content from April 2022, with the aim of making it costlier to use new rather than recycled plastic.

Hammond said: “Plastic packaging makes up two-thirds of all the plastic waste that pollutes this country and wreaks havoc on our environment. It’s our responsibility to do something about it, and that’s why we will introduce a new tax on the producers of plastic packaging that do not use enough recycled material.”

 

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