What are the UK Government doing to improve recycling and reduce waste?

The Government published their Resource and Waste strategy for England and Wales in December 2018.

It sets out the strategic objectives for what the government want to achieve over the next 10 years in the environment sector and will majorly effect commercial and domestic waste services.

During the launch of the strategy Mr Gove (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) said:
“Our strategy sets out how we will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse, and recycle. 
Together we can move away from being a ‘throw-away’ society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource. 
We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste.”

To me that all sounds very exciting and very positive!

So, what’s in it and what is it for?

person standing near wall

It is designed to help combat climate change, reduce litter, increase recycling, safeguard resources, reduce non-recyclable waste and reduce the flow of plastic to the ocean.

It sets out 4 main elements including:

1.A plastic packaging tax 

Charging a tax to the packaging manufacturer if the product uses less than 30% recycled content. 

2. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

Making the producers and manufacturers of the product that creates the waste pay for its effects.

3. Consistency in waste and recycling collections

Setting out set target materials that must be collected all over the UK including food waste and plastic packaging. 

4. Deposit Return Scheme

Charging a small fee when buying certain items (e.g. plastic drinks bottles) that is refunded upon the return of that item.

All of this is still subject to consultation and is not written in stone, so there may be some changes after the consultations close in May 2019.

Circular Economy

Image result for circular economy

All of this focuses around the Circular Economy. If you haven’t heard of it before, here’s a brief overview of what it is. 

The ‘circular economy’ is linked to the concept of the ‘circle of life’ – think, Lion King and nature’s way of returning life back to the earth so that when something dies, it gives new life to another.

In terms of materials and resources, the circular economy relates to the re-use, re-fashioning, or remanufacturing of goods, thus extending their lifespan, putting things back into the system after their first life has been used. 

So, all of this sounds interesting, right?
But I guess you’re wondering how much of an impact it will have on you.
I’ve written a brief section on what each of the elements are and how they may affect you below.

Plastic Packaging Tax 

bunch of vegetables

Why is it being introduced? 

Plastic packaging accounts for 44% of plastic used in the UK with over 2 million tonnes of plastic packaging being used each year. Virgin plastic is cheaper to buy than recycled plastic, meaning that most plastic packaging very rarely uses any recycled content, despite it being better for the environment by using less energy to produce and not depleting fossil fuels.    

What is it aiming to achieve? 

The government is aiming to shift the cost incentives for manufacturers to produce more sustainable plastic packaging, encouraging a greater use of recycled plastic while helping to reduce plastic waste in the UK.

What will it involve?

This is not yet set in stone as this plastic tax is still out for consultation. 

However, it is set that the tax will apply to businesses that produce / import plastics into the UK that do not have a decent amount of recycled plastic content. How much recycled content that is currently looks like it will be around 30%, but the tax percentage is still yet to be decided, as is what that money brought in by the tax will be used for.

How will it affect you? 

This element will probably have the least direct effect on your day to day, however, this isn’t to say it’s the least important!

The tax isn’t due to be brought in until April 2022 – these things take time, but for a government tax, this is actually a pretty quick turnaround.

You may see a difference in the type of packaging being produced, as manufactures look to plastic alternatives to avoid the tax.

What you won’t see day to day is how this tax will be reducing the amount of virgin plastics being produced and increasing the amount of recycled plastic that is being reused within the UK – win win!

Have your say on this

They are asking for feedback from industry and the public, so you can have a read and give some feedback here (link) if you wish! You don’t have to answer every question, but just those you do have an opinion on – we’ve got to make sure this consultation hears the voice of the people, not just those who will be effected by the tax – so go ahead and have your say! 

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

clear glass canister lot on table

Why is it being introduced? 

The government has a lot of good reasons on why this EPR scheme is being brought in, including the outdated method currently being used to hold producers to account that does not deal with the issues of today’s waste. See here for more information on the current scheme in place, Packaging Recover Notes

They want to use this to drastically reduce the amount of difficult to recycle products on the market by putting financial pressure on those producers and manufacturers. 

What is it aiming to achieve? 

This scheme aims to have more packaging made from recycled material in the UK as well as less items being littered and left to damage our environment. 

They also want to see more packaging items being easily recyclable – let’s hope this helps to put an end to the dreaded film plastic packaging that is all over out supermarkets. By enabling more items to be recycles, they hope to see a reduction in the amount of litter in the environment. 

How will it work? 

The strategy ensures that producers will pay the full costs of disposal for packaging they place on the market.

The EPR scheme will see industry paying higher fees to the government if their products are harder to reuse, repair or recycle. This will aim to encourage sustainable design through financial burdens. It has been estimated this EPR could raise between £500 million and £1 billion a year for recycling and disposal costs.

These costs will go towards helping local authorities to collect and recycle waste in the UK. It will also go towards helping fund things like litter picking to remove these harmful packaging products from our environment. 

How will it affect you? 

There may be an increase in refill schemes linked to big brands as a way to eliminate or reduce their packaging waste – we can but hope! 

Schemes like Loop from TerraCycle working with big brands to run refill schemes in supermarkets may become more common. Loop are planning on trailing this system with Tesco next year in the UK – very, very exciting times. 

You may find that products are packaged more sustainably, taking into account how easy they are to be recycled / reused at the end of their product life. 

Have your say.

You can have your say on the consultation here. As with the Plastic tax, just answer the questions you have an opinion on to help shape this scheme. 

Consistency in Collections 

green trash can beside wooden fence

Why is it being introduced? 

Recycling in the UK has increased dramatically since the introduction of Landfill Tax back in 1996, but has recently started to plateau out for the last 3 years or so. It would seem that the UK has reached its peak for recycling using the current systems it has in place. 

There is evidence from major stakeholders including businesses and members of the public that current recycling schemes in the UK are confusing and have called for greater consistency across the UK in the way recycling is collected as well as what is collected.

What is it aiming to achieve? 

By creating consistent collections the government is aiming to stimulate recycling from households as well as increasing the quality of materials being collected.  

How will it work? 

The strategy is suggesting all authorities start moving towards source segregated recycling collections. This means presenting recycling in individual waste streams or in streams that are easily separated at the kerbside / mechanically e.g. plastic and metals are easily sorted with magnets and eddy-currents.

By pre-sorting materials at home, higher quality recycling is produced and recycled into high quality products that are easily recycled again. Essentially, extending the life of that material.

When recycling is co-mingled (presented in one container) some materials like paper and cardboard are easily contaminated, by other materials like glass, sometimes rendering them non-recyclable or only recyclable for low grade products.

By moving to source segregating we are increasing the quality of our recycling in the UK.

They are also suggesting that a number of target materials are set out for all local authorities to collect including food waste and plastic tubs and trays! – Yay!

Something else that has been tagged on to this part of the strategy is the introduction of mandatory labelling for packaging products showing whether it is recyclable or not.
This allows the consumer to be more aware of what they are buying.

If you’ve seen my Green Dot post, you’ll know this is music to my ears – down with the constant Greenwashing of the public by companies!

How will it affect you? 

You may see a complete overhaul in how your waste is collected if you currently present your recycling all together in wheelie bins – this may involve moving to boxes / bags for individual waste streams and a change in the vehicles used to collect them.

You may see an increase in the types of recycling collected by your authority.
It is very likely you’ll see a weekly food waste collection be introduced in your area as this looks set to be one of the target materials being proposed! 

Have your say.

As with the others, the consultation is live until 13th May 2019, so put your views across! Linked here

If you’re still with me – welldone! This is the last of the 4 parts being introduced – Phew!

Deposit Return Schemes (DRS)

Coca-Cola bottles in between Sprite and another bottle

DRS schemes are well known around the world and are known to be successful in what they aim to achieve – reducing litter. They are found in Scandinavia, USA, Australia, New Zealand and most of Europe.

So, the government (AKA Mr Gove) would like to introduce one here in the UK. 

What it would involve is the manufacturers adding an additional cost onto some items (they are focusing on drinks containers) which you do not get back until that item is returned. This promotes people to make sure their items are returned to the correct place, rather than being littered. 

What is it aiming to achieve? 

It is aiming to reduce the amount of litter found in the UK, increase recycling of plastic bottles primarily through the additional costs and through clear labelling and consumer messaging. 

How will it work? 

An additional cost (as yet, undetermined) will be added onto an item which is included in the scheme, for example a plastic bottle, which would only be redeemed when that items in returned to the correct facility. 

These facilities are likely to places in supermarkets / shops and be run by commercial organisations such as coca-cola.

There are currently 2 models the government are putting forward:

All in model – this is where you would be able to return any sized drinks container to a return point. 

On the go model – this would only include 750ml and below for drinks bottles that are used “on the go”

How will it affect you? 

You will probably see an increase in the cost of your drinks containers that are under the DRS scheme. 

You will see different packaging on these items with information on recycling and the DRS.

There will also be DRS points setting up in supermarkets and shops all over the country for you to return your items to. 

Have your say.

This is also up for consultation – put your views across if you have them! Linked here


You may have noticed I’m a little less enthusiastic about this scheme… for me personally I don’t think a DRS scheme is what’s needed in the UK if we have stringent Producer Responsibilities in place, as suggested above. 

It seems a little over kill if you ask me. 

IF a DRS scheme was going to be introduced, I would like to see one that actually targeted items that are usually littered like cigarette butts, coffee cups, crisp packets and sweet wrappers. Not one for a material that we already have an infrastructure set up for… 

But hey! It’s all going in the right direction – encouraging recycling and reducing litter – fingers crossed! 

3 blue garbage cans in beach

Thank you if you stayed with me till the end!

I know it’s a bit wordy, but there is SO much to talk about with this new strategy and the consultations.

I’m really interested in what will come out of these consultations (yes I will probably be writing another long post about it!) and am looking forward to what they will bring to the UK Environment Sector!

I’d love to hear what you think on the proposals too!

Emilie x

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