Reducing Plastic Waste, House of Commons Debate, 8 September 2021

Councils and households are working together to increase recycling rates, with plastic packaging collected by councils doubling over the past decade. Councils are ready to take on the challenge of improving recycling rates further.  


Key messages 

  • Councils and households are working together to increase recycling rates, with plastic packaging collected by councils doubling over the past decade. Councils are ready to take on the challenge of improving recycling rates further.  
  • While increased recycling is important in reducing plastic waste, the key is removing the plastic in the first place, this means targeting producers. Manufacturers of plastic packaging products are continuing to create and sell packaging that cannot be recycled and will be put in the recycling bin by people in good faith. The burden then falls on councils to not only collect it and dispose of it, but to pay the extra cost of disposing of it. 
  • It is important that the Government considers recent financial pressures on local government when introducing changes to waste processing systems. Not only has the pandemic had a devastating societal impact with councils spending more to safeguard communities, millions of people have also moved from working in offices to working at home, increasing the amount of material councils are collecting from the kerbside.  
  • Councils need more clarity on how waste services will be funded under the proposed Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) reforms. It is imperative that producers fully fund both the current waste collection and disposal costs as well as costs associated with increasing the recycling rate. The funding arising from the EPR should flow in its entirety to local government. 
  • Local government needs clarity about the future funding of the waste service. A Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers, in which ever form it takes; any alterations to consistency in household waste; and changes brought about by the Extended Producer Responsibility reforms will incur costs for local authorities. It is imperative that councils are given the resources they need to implement any changes.  
  • How waste is collected should continue to be determined locally. Current approaches reflect a range of local factors. Most people are not constantly on the move and do not have to negotiate different local systems. Residents need to know what can be recycled, which is dependent on producers making this very clear on packaging. The current differences in the collection service consider local geography and housing types and the investment in and availability of sorting and reprocessing infrastructure. It is important that this continues.  

Extended Producer Responsibility  

  • As the LGA said in our response to the Government Consultation on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), producers should be responsible for 100 per cent of the costs of managing packaging waste and we support reforms to the producer responsibility schemes.  
  • We support higher recycling targets for producers, and these should be extended to activity that goes beyond recycling and supports the circular economy, such as promoting re-use and refill.  
  • EPR must address all producers, regardless of size and scale. So that everyone who is creating waste is contributing towards recycling it. We must also see an encompassing system, that covers the clean-up of littered and fly tipped packaging items.  
  • Councils need more clarity on how waste services will be funded under the proposed Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) reforms. It is imperative that producers fully fund both the current waste collection and disposal costs as well as costs associated with increasing the recycling rate. The funding arising from the EPR should flow in its entirety to local government. 
  • The revised EPR scheme must be aligned with central and local government’s ambition to reduce carbon emissions. We would like to see evidence that higher recycling targets have taken the impact on carbon emissions into account. 

Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers

  • The LGA is supportive of the Government’s ambition to deliver a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), as set out in our consultation response. An effective DRS will help to deliver improved quality and quantity of recyclate. It could also be a real force for delivering behavioural change amongst consumers. 
  • We are disappointed that the data and models used have not been made available for us to scrutinise. In the absence of overwhelming evidence that an all-in DRS scheme (for all sizes of drinks containers) will deliver value for money, convenience for consumers and increase quantity and quality of material, the LGA supports the introduction of an "on-the-go" DRS system. This system will target smaller drinks containers most often sold for consumption outside of the home.  
  • The "all in model", would be problematic at this stage. It will impact those living in flats and smaller houses disproportionately, impact families who are financially struggling due to COVID-19 and penalise car-free families while increasing transport on already busy roads. It would also result in some material inevitably leaking into the kerbside collection systems. Where this happens, councils would incur a heavy cost to process and manage this leakage.  
  • DRS is a collection system. It does not on its own make producers change their behaviour. DRS must be implemented in a manner which actively encourages producers to use more environmentally friendly bottles. It must not be a system which facilitates producers carrying on with their current behaviour whilst consumers pick up the cost via paying deposits. 

Consistency in household and business recycling 

  • Most councils are already collecting a set of dry recyclables resembling that proposed in the consistency consultation. Where there are substantial additional costs for councils in complying with the proposed set, these should be met by new burdens funding and/or transition funding. 
  • Consistency cannot be applied to collections alone; it must also be a principle in the design and recyclability of packaging. The LGA maintains that producers must be the focus point of recycling reforms.  
  • Where local authorities are locked into contracts that will prohibit the introduction of new collection systems, the Government should work with those councils and the LGA to determine individual timelines that do not negatively impact the local authority economically or reputationally. 
  • How waste is collected should continue to be determined locally. Current approaches reflect a range of local factors. Only local determination can ensure the right approaches are taken in any given area. 

Rejected non-recyclable material

  • Latest figures show 525,000 tonnes of household recycling collected was rejected at the point of sorting in 2019/20. Each tonne of waste collected from a household recycling bin that can’t be recycled attracts an extra cost of around £93 to dispose of through an energy from waste facility. This equates to over £48 million per year in additional costs.  
  • Contaminated recycling is costing councils a great deal of money. Oxford City Council found that recycling has increased three-fold in the last 3 years with 6.5 per cent of recycled material rejected since April 2020 due to contamination. Other authorities such as City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council have reported a 15 per cent rise in recycling contamination in some areas during the pandemic. A report shows that the additional costs for collecting and processing this waste in comparison to pre-COVID levels is around £208,000 per month. 
  • We are calling on the manufacturers of non-recyclable packaging to front the costs associated with this sorting and disposal. Residents, councils, and the Government are working together to reduce plastic waste and achieve Net Zero, yet manufacturers are still producing materials that they know cannot be recycled which is misleading to some residents doing their best to vigilant when it comes to recycling.

Contact

Jonah Munn, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

jonah.munn@local.gov.uk