Frustration at delays as government publishes 2 out of 3 ‘transformational’ waste consultations

The waste sector has welcomed the government's publication of two highly anticipated consultations aimed at ramping up producer responsibility and boosting recycling, but has expressed concerns that a third consultation on consistent collections has been delayed.

Deposit return scheme aims to increase the recycling rate of drinks containers and reduce littering (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

The consultations are for the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging. They will run until 4 June in a ten-and-a-half week consultation period, which is shorter than the usual 12 weeks.

A third consultation was expected on the introduction of consistent recycling collections for all households and businesses in England, but DEFRA said this was now “going out for consultation shortly”.

Hailing the “landmark reforms”, environment secretary George Eustice said: “Through our world-leading Environment Bill we are transforming the way we deal with waste.

"These new changes will further ensure that more of what we consume is recycled and reused. They will stimulate the creation of alternatives to single-use plastics and establish consistent rules to help people recycle more easily across the country.”

READ MORE: How quickly will the government's waste and resources strategy change the system?

The consultation on DRS confirms news this week that the introduction of the scheme would be delayed. DEFRA said it has had to reassess what a “realistic timeline” for its implementation looks like, anticipating that it should now be introduced in late 2024 “at the earliest”, instead of its original target for 2023.

The consultation document reads: “We believe this revision presents a realistic yet equally ambitious timeline to implement a complex but incredibly important policy in the most effective way possible.”

The delay has already this week been criticised by environmental campaigners.

The consultation document also reveals that while the Welsh government prefers an ‘all-in’ system for containers of up to 3 litres in size, DEFRA and Northern Ireland’s DAERA are still open to either an all-in option or an ‘on-the-go’ scheme which would only involve drinks containers under 750ml in size.

In the consultation on an EPR scheme, DEFRA said its revised estimates indicate that the annual packaging waste management costs that producers will be required to pay will be in the region of £2.7bn in the first full year of implementation. 

This is a huge increase on the £1bn estimated by the government when it first proposed an EPR in its 2018 waste and resources strategy. 

Waste trade body the Environmental Services Association (ESA), said it welcomed the “important progress milestone for DEFRA’s Resources and Waste Strategy”.

However, its executive director, Jacob Hayler, said “the complex policy interventions set out in these consultations must be considered holistically rather than in isolation”. He said the decision to consult separately at a later date on ‘collection consistency’ therefore raised “some immediate questions about whether stakeholders will be able to properly assess how the proposed measures will work together in a systematic way”.

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory (LARAC) also welcomed the consultations but said it had “grave concerns about the delay in the release of the consultation on consistent collections, and that no date has been given for when it will come out.”

Carole Taylor, LARAC’s chair, said: “The outputs from these consultations will shape local authority waste services for the next twenty years so we need to get them right... There is understandable frustration in the delay in releasing the consistency consultation, with further implications for councils.

“There is also concern about the shortened consultation period at a time when local authorities and business are stretched with their ongoing efforts in the face of Covid 19. We would ask the governments to seriously consider reinstating the consultation period to the full 12 weeks.”  

Introduction of a deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can be viewed here.

Packaging and packaging waste: introducing Extended Producer Responsibility can be viewed here.