The government will not support new recycling targets unless there are clear economic and environmental benefits that exceed the costs, according to its response to a cross-party parliamentary inquiry on waste.
The environment, food and rural affairs select committee published a report on its inquiry into waste management in the UK in October. One of its recommendations was that Defra should aspire to achieve the highest feasible recycling rates in the UK, with or without European targets.
Since the report was published, the new European commission under Jean-Claude Juncker has announced its intention to review the previous commission's waste package, which included plans to increase member states' household recycling targets to 70% by 2030.
In its response to the Efra committee's report, the government states: "We do not support stringent new targets unless there are clear economic and environmental benefits that exceed the costs.
"We will want to ensure that the commission's anticipated new proposal to promote the circular economy will allow flexibility, ensure that costs are justified by expected impacts and create an environment that welcomes innovation," it said.
The Efra committee also recommended that Defra should take the lead role and responsibility for waste management policy, believing that the environment department had "stepped back" from waste and resource management policy. But the government said it had not done so, rather it had refocused activities in areas that "only government can and must do", such as where there are market failures.
Local authorities should lead on determining recycling arrangements for their areas, the government said. There are no plans to reintroduce statutory recycling targets for councils, it added.
Other government responses to Efra's report include:
- it dismisses a recommendation towards banning landfilling of recyclable material by 2025 as it states that evidence suggests it would likely impose additional costs on businesses, particularly SMEs;
- it agrees that more could be done to improve understanding and access to information for householders on the end destination of recyclates. The government is encouraging all authorities to raise awareness and support public confidence in recycling and applauds those who have published information through the Resource Association's end use destination of recycling charter, it says. However, it has no plans to introduce a compulsory scheme;
- it is implementing a new reporting facility through the web-based reporting system WasteDataFlow to improve how local authorities record all treatments and final destinations of recycling, reuse and composted waste. This will be rolled out to all local authorities from April 2015.
Jacob Hayler, executive director at the waste trade body, the Environmental Services Association, said: "It is disappointing that Defra remains focused narrowly on meeting our European targets and continues to forego opportunities for the UK to take a lead on resource issues. It is apparent from its response to the Efra report that the government continues to see waste as a potential cost and not an opportunity.
"We should not be waiting for Europe to show us how to exploit the untapped value in our waste resources. We should be putting in place the framework now to maximise the jobs and investment which could flow from building a modern and competitive circular economy in the UK," he added.