It is with significant interest that the European Commission’s proposed amendments for the Waste Directive under a new Article 8a includes the provision that packaging producers “cover the entire cost of waste management for their products”.
This encompasses separate collections, sorting and treatment operations.
Before my local government colleagues get too ecstatic at this news, there is a condition: the proposals are based on the “optimised cost of the services”. I can fully imagine that packaging producers may not be entirely happy with the proposal, and it would not be a surprise if there was lobbying to remove or substantially amend it – which is the right of packaging producers.
As it stands, the Commission is intending to press ahead with the proposals as they are, with the inevitable financial consequences, and that is a risk our packaging friends will acknowledge. From their perspective, I can well understand reluctance to contribute to existing council services if they perceive that they do not feel the benefits from services that do not recycle large amounts of high-quality materials.
And then there is the Commission’s admission that municipal waste management involves an “elaborate financing system” (see box). Where costs fall is a challenging conversation across the entire value chain. Cost-shunting between the different parts of the value chain seems routine. Any discussion between sectors, for example packaging and local government, has ‘baggage’ in terms of past discussions, finger pointing, the occasional accusation and probable perceptions of lack of trust.
But resources minister Rory Stewart’s standardised collections and consistency agenda could show the way forward. If any new packaging producer’s funding to councils is based on an “optimised cost of the service”, there seems to be an opportunity to combine two agendas: taking forward extended producer responsibilities on funding alongside a credible process, led by WRAP and Defra, on optimised costs and types of services for England.
This all leads me to believe there is merit in taking forward three actions at this time. First, a substantive forum is needed between the packaging and local government sectors to openly discuss issues of mutual concern relating to the development and funding of effective recycling services.
The time for this forum has arrived, and it needs to be populated with people who are willing to see beyond simply stating the negotiating positions of their respective organisations, as important as that is in the very early stages.
Second, Defra and WRAP’s work on ‘consistency’ needs to be seen as contributing to the Commission’s proposal on costing the optimum service. Both the packaging and local government communities have long-established relationships with WRAP, which leads me to believe there is currently no better organisation to independently work on optimised services to the (hoped for) satisfaction of both sectors. WRAP could also facilitate the previously mentioned forum. There are already excellent precedents for this including its cross-sector work on plastics and food.
Third, while there has been much talk about the recycling, landfill and other targets in the Commission’s proposals, an equal amount of airtime needs to be given to moving forward on consistency, optimisation and a fair funding formula that meets the needs of the packaging and local government sectors.
There does seem to be an opportunity in front of both sectors to upgrade relationships based on securing better outcomes all round. A shared understanding of their combined needs could be a good basis on which to take forward the Commission’s proposals – especially if can be facilitated by WRAP and supported by credible evidence that the parties have faith in.
Paul Vanston is head of waste resources at South Cambridgeshire district and Cambridge city councils