England risks failing to reach EU recycling target, MPs warn

22nd October 2014

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  • Waste ,
  • Recycling ,
  • Minimisation ,
  • Energy


Hilary Stone

EU targets to recycle at least 50% of household waste by 2020 could be missed without significant government intervention, a cross-party committee of MPs said today.

Recycling rates in England increased from 11.2% in 2000 to 43% in 2011. But the rise in recycling has now stalled, increasing by just 0.2%, to 43.2%, in 2012/13. By contrast, the recycling rate in Wales was 52% in 2012/13.

In a report on its inquiry into waste management in England, the environment, food and rural affairs select committee said that Defra should take more leadership and responsibility on waste. Since April 2014, the department has stepped back in “areas where businesses are better placed to act and there is no clear market failure”.

However, ministers need to ensure interested parties that waste policy remains a priority, the committee said. In order to address concerns in the sector, the MPs recommend that Defra immediately clarify its definition and interpretation of “clear market failure”, explain how it monitors the market for signs of failure, and confirm the criteria that must be met to identify areas where businesses are “better placed to act”.

All government departments involved in waste policy should be coordinate its delivery and be consistent, and policies should not be undermined by contradictory messages, the committee said.

It wants a minister appointed to coordinate work on waste across all governmental departments.

The report also recommended:

  • Defra and waste body Wrap develop a comprehensive plan to be implemented in the event of England’s recycling rate continuing to slow.
  • Local authorities should remain responsible for addressing barriers to recycling, but Defra, together with the Local Government Association, should facilitate and encourage best practice.
  • Funding for Wrap and Keep Britain Tidy should be increased if necessary.
  • Communication with households should be improved in order to tackle the public’s confusion, lack of confidence in the process and contamination of recyclates. Defra should consider publishing an annual report detailing the final destination of all recyclates by all local authority and waste management companies to improve public confidence.
  • Defra should provide the waste sector with clear guidance on how much energy-from-waste infrastructure capacity is needed in England to gain an optimal balance between export and local treatment.

David Palmer-Jones, chief executive at waste company Sita UK, said: “I welcome the report's recommendations and hope that they provide the catalyst we need for [the] government to re-engage with our sector.”

Defra’s announcement of its intention to "step back" from waste policy work had been ill-conceived and premature, he said.


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