11 December 2023
Government’s programme of waste reforms

The Public Accounts Committee has released its report into the Government's programme waste reforms inquiry, the public hearing was held on the 11 September. 

Government ambitions to reduce environmental and economic costs of waste are under threat due to a lack of clarity and delays. In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) expresses concerns about a lack of certainty in the Government’s delayed collections and packaging reforms programme and its long-term waste planning. The report warns that without clarification, a resulting lack of investment will stop the Government reaching its ambitions for reducing the environmental and economic costs of waste.  

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) waste reforms are reliant on businesses and consumers changing their behaviour by producing less and recycling more. Despite this, the PAC’s report finds businesses and local authorities are unable to prepare for the required changes due to a lack of clarity on what form the reforms will take and the impact on council funding.  

Without clarification, local councils cannot invest and improve their recycling services and must delay procurement. The PAC warns that there is a real risk this would result in insufficient facilities to deal with the increased volumes of recycling coming from the reforms, meaning that more plastics will be incinerated, taken to landfill, or exported to other countries than before.  

The report also finds that Defra needs to provide similar clarity to support its longer-term waste policies. It has yet to set out how the waste system as a whole needs to change, including the waste infrastructure capacity it expects will be needed for England to meet its ambitions. Without the certainty of a long-term infrastructure plan, private sector companies lack the confidence to invest in new recycling facilities, compounding the issue of plastic waste.  

The report calls for clarification about the requirements for the programme’s waste infrastructure. Without the published requirements, timeline for implementation and funding confirmation, businesses and councils cannot use this time to make the necessary investments in their services. While simpler recycling is expected to increase recycling rates to 52% - 60% by 2035, the PAC warns that without successful contributions from other projects, Defra will not reach its 2035 target to recycle 65% of all municipal waste.  

Defra has suggested that the delayed implementation of the first step of the reforms programme to 2025 is partially to allow councils time to prepare - but two years on from the closure of Defra’s consultation on simpler recycling, no requirements have been published. Weaknesses in Defra’s set-up of the programme contributed to these delays, including running the programme as three separate projects and poor programme management capability and capacity. 

Commenting on the PAC session, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP said:

“Concerns from Local Authorities were raised with me ahead of the Public Accounts Committee session on the proposed changes to the disposal of plastic, food, and garden waste. Major changes to waste reform are important in one sense as we need to encourage recycling and reduce waste as much as possible, but we must be mindful of costs and what works best for local areas”.

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