UK Resources & Waste Strategy: What you need to know

On Tuesday, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), released its long-awaited Resources and Waste Strategy. Remarkably, this is the first major waste policy intervention for England since 2011.

At first glance, the strategy encouragingly talks about moving away from the liner economic model of ‘take, make, use, throw’, to a more circular and sustainable model. In this model, we will aim to keep resources in use for as long as possible and extract maximum value from them. This is illustrated in the image below:

The strategy, which aims to trigger this transition to a circular economy, is split into eight main chapters and covers a range of topics including innovation, sustainable production, resource recovery, and waste crime. Together they form a plan for meeting a series of overarching targets: zero avoidable waste by 2050, double resource efficiency by 2050, zero plastic waste by 2042, and zero food waste to landfill by 2030.

In this article, we explore some of the key implications for business.

Businesses to pay full cost of packaging disposal

Invoking the ‘polluter pays’ principle, this move will overhaul England’s waste system. It puts a legal duty on producers of waste to pay full net-costs of disposal of any packaging they place on the market, up from just 10% now. Fresh legislation to overhaul the system is planned for 2021, with reforms taking effect by 2023.

Known as the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), this will see industry pay higher fees if their products are harder to reuse, repair or recycle, and will encourage manufacturers to design products which last longer and increase levels of re-use. Producers will be expected to take more responsibility for items that are harder to recycle, including cars and electrical goods.

EPR for packaging is expected to raise between £500m and £1bn annually for recycling and disposal. It should also encourage packaging producers to use less packaging and use materials that are easier to recycle.

Recycle Recycle Recycle!

Recycling levels have flat-lined for several years, with studies showing that the country is not on track to achieve binding EU targets of 50% of household waste recycled by 2020.

Defra is seeking to boost recycling levels by introducing a consistent set of recyclable materials collected from all households and businesses, and consistent labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle.

Mandatory food waste prevention targets for business

As well as weekly collections of food waste for every household in the country (at the moment only 35% in England are obliged to own a caddy), the new strategy sets out mandatory food waste targets for business and annual reporting of food surplus and waste by food businesses.

Further, should progress be deemed “insufficient”, the government will consult on introducing mandatory targets for food waste prevention.

Single-use plastics

Unsurprisingly, plastics remained high on the agenda. New policies tackling plastic waste include:

This is in addition to the £20m for plastics research and development through the Plastics Innovation Fund in March 2018.

Warranties & second-hand market

To drive circularity, manufacturers will need to use more second-hand materials in their new products. However, many businesses struggle to get up to date information about the availability and quality of secondary materials in the value chain. To address this, the government has announced the potential of a National Materials ‘Datahub’, offering detailed information on the availability of virgin and secondary materials.

This would make it much easier for businesses to find available secondary materials, whilst also making it easier for government to spot and address where supply gaps lie.

Another key factor in reducing resources use and driving the development of a circular economy is reuse and repair, rather than replacement. This is why companies may also have to offer mandatory guarantees and extended warranties on products to increase the proportion of goods repaired rather the discarded.

Final thoughts

Clearly, the government has listened to industry and stepped up its action. The strategy shows clear potential to change the unsustainable way in which the sector currently operates, and the focus on whole-system change is very welcome.

Nevertheless, it does lack a sense of urgency. Just last month we were given stark warnings from the United Nations that we have just 12-year to limit the climate change catastrophe. In this context, targets aiming towards 2050, 2042 and even 2030 seem largely inadequate.

At Simply Sustainable, we believe in and advocate a faster pace and scale of change – one which is more in line with what the world needs. Whilst the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy is welcome and an important contribution, we will continue to encourage and support businesses to move faster than the recommended timeframes in embedding more circular and sustainable business models. In a recent blog, we identified five principles which we believe are essential to developing a comprehensive waste and resources strategy.

For more information on the circular economy model, or if you are interested in developing a comprehensive waste & resources strategy, please get in touch.

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