Following the publication last year of its 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government has been consulting on a series of proposals on waste and recycling that have significant implications for councils.
These include requiring councils to collect a core set of dry recyclable materials from households and businesses, and make separate food waste collections; making packaging producers pay for the full costs of recycling their waste; the introduction of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and tin cans; and a plastic packaging tax.
After consulting widely with member councils, councillors and officers, as well as stakeholders and service providers, the LGA has responded to these consultations on behalf of local government.
We have highlighted councils’ success in increasing recycling rates, and support the ambition of increasing these further. The Government has committed to meeting councils’ full net costs, which is welcome – but we aren’t reassured that the current modelling will deliver true full net costs for all councils.
Any funding for local government needs to be treated as additional, and must go in its entirety to councils if higher quantity and quality recycling is to be achieved; an improvement on current recycling levels needs a significant financial uplift.
We recognise the Government’s desire to deliver greater consistency in the materials collected. Around 70 per cent of councils already collect the proposed set of materials, with the gaps being glass and plastic pots, tubs and trays. Councils need the funding to support the expansion of their services to cover new materials.
The Government wants to make separate food waste collections mandatory by 2023. This is supported, so long as councils’ costs are fully funded and that equal attention is paid to prevention of food waste.
However, garden waste remains an area where councils should continue to be allowed to charge for collection.
Councils should also be free to decide how to deliver their waste services at a local level. There are a range of local issues, such as geography, property type, deprivation and rurality that determine the method in which waste can be collected.
The Government’s preference for multi-stream collections is not supported by councils. Meanwhile, there is support for a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and cans, but the current proposals do not demonstrate value for money.
A deposit return scheme is a collection system. On its own, it doesn’t make producers change their behaviour. It has to be implemented in a manner that actively encourages producers to use more environmentally friendly bottles. It must not be a system that facilitates producers carrying on with their current behaviour while consumers pick up the cost by paying deposits.
Finally, it is encouraging to see proposals for a plastic packaging tax that are designed to stimulate demand for used plastic packaging.
The ambition to increase plastic recycling needs everyone to play their part, from manufacturers and retailers to the recycling industry. The LGA has long called for a whole-chain approach to recycling and for responsibility to be shared across all the players.
Local government can only deliver on this ambition if the commitments on making packaging producers pay for recycling their products are fully followed through. Producers need to pay true full net costs to councils for the waste they create.