‘Common-sense’: Government unveils fresh package of recycling reforms

    ‘Common-sense’: Government unveils fresh package of recycling reforms

    The government has this morning announced a package of reforms to the UK’s waste management system, pledging to “put an end to confusion” over what can and can not be recycled in different parts of the country.

    The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it would introduce a new “simpler, common-sense” approach to recycling, which would mean people across England would be able to recycle the same materials whether at home, work, or school.

    Under the proposals, all local authorities will be required to collect six waste streams: glass, metal, plastic, paper and card, food waste, and garden waste.

    It has also pledged to introduce weekly food waste collections for most households across England in 2026, putting an end to a “trend towards three or four weekly bin collections” seen in some local authorities in the UK, particularly in Wales.

    The increased collection of recyclable and food waste will offer fresh opportunities for the waste sector to expand anaerobic digestion capacity, the government said, stressing that it was supporting construction of new facilities through the Green Gas Support Scheme.

    Defra said the plans were being designed to recycling simpler for both councils and households, noting that it was committed to preventing councils from being “hit with extra complexity” and ensuring households would not need an “excessive number of bins”.

    It explained it was proposing new exemptions to make sure that waste collectors could collect dry recyclables together, in the same bin or bag and collect organic waste together so as to minimise the number of different bins for households.

    “Simpler recycling will help us all recycle more easily, doing our bit to help save the planet and make the best use of precious resources that we use every day,” said Environment Secretary Therese Coffey. “Alongside weekly food waste collections, we are ending the postcode lottery of what you can put in your bin so that wherever you live in the country, you will be able to recycle the same products with confidence.”

    As part of its package of reforms, the government has announced the launch of a four-week consultation on expanding the definition of non-household municipal premises, meaning that places of worship, prisons, charity shops, and residential hostels would have to comply with new recycling rules.

    “Our ambitious plans will help every household, business, school, and hospital in the country to recycle more,” said Environment Minister Rebecca Pow. “We have listened to councils and come up with a system that will increase recycling in a way that does not clutter our pavements with numerous bins and smelly food waste collections for weeks, making recycling simpler and more effective. This will help us to make the most of our finite and precious resources, while reducing carbon emissions and protecting our precious environment from harmful waste.” 

    The government has also set out a number of plans designed to tackle waste crime, including proposals to ensure those transporting or making decisions about waste demonstrate their competency to make those decisions, and plans to tighten background checks for firms moving or trading waste.

    In addition, Defra touted its intention to overhaul the record-keeping system for waste tracking so waste handlers could record information from the point it is produced to the point it is disposed of on a central digital system. It said the move would make it easier for regulators to better detect waste crime.  

    The announcement comes just a few months after the government announced it would defer the launch of the UK’s new extended producer responsibility (EPR) system until 2025, after the general election.

    It also comes just a few weeks after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was ridiculed on social media, after he claimed in a major address the government had “scrapped” plans which would have meant households in the UK would need “seven bins”. Journalists, fact checkers, and policy experts were quick to point out that the government’s plans to standardise approaches to recycling across the country incorporated sufficient flexibility for councils to limit the number of bins households have to use.

    Claire Shrewsbury, director of insights and innovation at charity WRAP, welcomed the government’s announcement. “We welcome Defra’s announcement on simpler recycling and the inclusion of the six key materials and universal food waste collections for England,” she said. “It’s encouraging that more than 2.2 million businesses will now be required to separate their waste for recycling.”

    But Nina Schrank, head of plastics at Greenpeace UK, said the reforms did not go far enough in tackling UK’s “fundamentally broken” waste management system. “We can streamline waste collection all we like, it’ll do little to solve the scandalous fact that so much of our plastic recycling will ultimately end up burnt in incinerators around the UK, dumped in landfill or shipped overseas for others to deal with,” she said. “The public want to see action on this. To do that we have to produce less waste. The government needs to get serious and back measures to cut the amount of plastic packaging we produce as a country in the first place. To get there they need to support an ambitious UN Global Plastics Treaty that’ll end single-use plastic and cut plastic production at source.”

    The reforms follow several years in which recycling rates in the UK have flatlined, with critics arguing that limited recycling capacity and collection services, coupled with confusion over what materials can be recycled were undermining efforts to boost levels of recycling.

    Want to understand what is going on at the cutting edge of sustainability? Check out BusinessGreen Intelligence – the premier information for professionals focused on the UK’s green economy.