Legislation update | Autumn 2019
15th October 2019
Posted by SUEZ recycling and recovery UK.
In this post we focus on matters that were topical over the summer and the early autumn 2019. From our reactions to the new Environment Bill, updates on initiatives around plastics including bio-plastics and microplastics to food waste and organics.
New team of MPs at Defra
All change at Defra following Boris Johnson’s appointment as Prime Minister. Theresa Villiers has been named as Michael Gove’s successor as Environment Secretary in a fundamental overhaul of the Defra team. The MP for Chipping Barnet, a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and a previous Transport Minister, has been vocal about litter issues over the years.
Joining Ms Villiers’ team will be Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary with responsibility for waste and recycling, succeeding Thérèse Coffey, who became the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Mrs Pow will have responsibility for domestic natural environment, the 25 Year Environment Plan, and the Environment Bill. Finally, the former London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith has joined Defra as an Under-Secretary of State, in a combined role with the Department for International Development, focusing on environmental protection issues. Based on conversations we have had with the new team, and the civil servants supporting them, we remain confident that the plans, strategies and themes of the former team will continue to be the immediate priorities for Defra.
Defra strategy and consultation update
Defra continues to develop its final policy proposals for the Resources and Waste Strategy over the rest of 2019, with officials expecting the government to bring forward second stage consultations on their firm plans in early 2020. Defra has confirmed that the consultation on EPR was broadly in favour with government proposals to date. Currently Defra is undertaking evidence work to prepare the ground for its proposals to introduce a system using ‘modulated fees’ for packaging waste compliance, under a revised EPR scheme. This would see packaging producers pay costs based upon the recyclability of the packaging they place onto the market. In light of the responses received Defra proposes to consider in more detail two governance approaches:
1. a competitive compliance scheme approach, or
2. a single scheme administrator approach.
Additionally, Defra is committed to reviewing the alternative models submitted by respondents, including a number of ‘hybrid’ approaches, including one suggested by SUEZ. Further work is being carried out to understand the impact of a proposed mandatory recycling labelling scheme for products, as well as wider work to understand the impact of the policy proposals on UK secondary markets and infrastructure.
As for the plastic packaging tax, Treasury is working towards the implementation of the tax in 2022 as originally planned. Defra believes there is “strong overall support” for its DRS proposals although further work is being done on the options for the system, in spite of former Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s backing for an ‘all-in’ DRS, before he left the role. Defra is now actively considering whether online retailers will be included in the DRS, and how infrastructure required for the system will be financed.
Ongoing consumer research will test issues of wellbeing and dis-amenity before committing to any DRS plans.
On recycling consistency, Defra has already outlined its preference for which materials should be included in the list, but acknowledged that further consultation on the detail and statutory guidance will be required. Some materials currently not on the list, such as cartons, remain under consideration as to whether they will be included in the packaging consistency regime or not. Businesses will be required to segregate recyclables and food waste in the future, with a forthcoming consultation likely to outline the planned expectations in due course.
Defra has said that there will be mandatory weekly collections of separated food waste by councils in England, and that the government will consider whether to impose “a minimum service standard of alternative weekly collection for residual waste”, although further consideration will be given to whether councils must offer a free garden waste collection service.
SUEZ continues to feed into these discussions both directly with Defra’s officials through one-to-one meetings and through a number of trade body and industry-organised workshops and events. And we will respond formally to the planned consultations early in 2020.
The Environment Bill
The main elements of the Environment Bill revealed in Queen’s Speech on 14 October 2019 have been largely welcomed by the industry. In reaction to the Queen’s Speech, David Palmer-Jones, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said: “Plans under the Environment Bill to deal with plastic waste and pollution are to be commended, but these must come hand-in-hand with radical societal reform of our consumption and resource use.
“Producer responsibility schemes, as envisaged by the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, are an essential tool to ensure we move, as a nation, from a throw-away society to a reuse-and-recycle based economy that gives new lives to products we consume – which must go hand-in-hand with efforts to minimise our overall consumption of the planet’s finite resources.
“An ad hoc, piecemeal, approach to meeting society’s collective challenge to consume fewer virgin materials, and to recycle more, simply won’t deliver the systemic changes needed to deliver on the praiseworthy ambitions of the Environment Act.
“Greater producer and consumer responsibility plays a significant role in reducing our reliance on non-renewable resources. We look to the Environment Act to help give new momentum to the clear economic and environmental case for the greater production of secondary raw materials.
“The timetable for transitioning to a more sustainable UK economy needs now to be put back on track. As a nation we are part of a global community still far too reliant on finite global resources and we cannot afford to delay. The value chain of public, manufacturers, local authorities and recycling organisations are already investing and need to invest more to make this change happen but they need the right regulatory and investment conditions to be delivered by government now, to be able to deliver change within the timescales envisaged for a new sustainable economy.
“Success depends on all parts of the value chain doing their part, from the need for 90% of the people doing 90% of the right things for recycling 90% of the time, to the design, collection and treatment system working efficiently and effectively. With this high participation we, as a society, can achieve the scale of ambition demanded by the environment and set out by government.”
OPRL is currently reviewing its on-pack labels and guidance to help consumers make the right decisions about their packaging post-use. The current labelling system relates on the whole to available collection systems, hence the terms “check locally” and “widely recycled”, and not the recyclability of packaging itself, whilst increasing media and public attention on plastic means the guidance needs to be much clearer on some packaging types.
Javid turns the page on austerity
The Chancellor Sajid Javid promised in August 2019 to ‘turn the page on austerity” outlining his spending round for government departments and local authorities, pledging a 3.3% increase in funding for Defra, as well as money to insulate the department against Brexit. This follows several years of budget cuts.
The Chancellor also outlined a funding package of more than £3.5 billion for council services, described as the biggest year-on-year real-term increase in spending for local government in a decade. Finally, the Mr Javid made additional funding available to BEIS to develop new programmes to meet the government’s commitment for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Consultation on bio-plastics
The UK Government’s consultation is seeking evidence to help develop standards for biodegradable, compostable and bio-based plastics in the future. Defra and the BEIS are seeking in particular expert evidence on the sustainability of bio-based and biodegradable plastics in comparison with conventional plastic materials, for example compostable plastic carrier bags. They are also considering views on existing plastic degradation standards and how they could be promoted without adverse effect, as well as looking at how standards for biodegradable plastics will be designed to ensure they fully biodegrade in a reasonable time frame.
The consultation document states that “at this stage there are no proposals on which we are seeking comments and no specific implications for any parties. But we hope that this call for evidence will help provide us with information to help us make decisions on possible future actions.”
The consultation was originally promised in the Resources and Waste Strategy, which was published in December 2018. And in recent months there has been considerable debate about contamination in existing waste management facilities because of uncertainty from users about where to put this material, or because it needs to be treated for longer than the target feedstocks for many of the AD and IVC sites.
The consultation focuses on six areas: bio-based plastics, biodegradable plastics, compostable plastics, existing and potential biodegradability standards, certification and labelling and impacts upon waste processing.
The consultation closed on 14 October 2019, and we should hear back from the government on the submissions by February 2020. SUEZ has submitted a response and contributed to a number of other industry submissions.
Clear plastics are priority to maximise recycling
Packaging producers should favour clear plastic milk and soft drink bottles and use smaller labels to maximise opportunities for recycling, new guidance from WRAP suggests, as part of the UK Plastics Pact campaign. The guidance sets out instructions to packaging designers with an aim of streamlining the polymers used for rigid plastic packaging such as bottles and pots, tubs and trays. Further guidance on films and flexible packaging is anticipated before Christmas 2019.
This will tie in with changes to the on-pack recycling labelling scheme (OPRL), which will adopt clearer guidance on which plastic polymers can be considered ‘recyclable’ compared to current guidelines. The guidance explains “best in class” polymer choices for each packaging type to guarantee recyclability. For plastic food and drink bottles the guidance explains:
• best in class material choice for bottle, cap, and sleeve,
• best in class colour choice,
• labelling recommendations,
• the rationale behind the recommendations.
WRAP’s guidance highlights a preference for clear PET on the basis that the end market for this material is higher. By using clear plastic there is the greatest potential for it to be used in plastic packaging, rather than ‘downcycled’ into black plastic.
This echoes Coca Cola’s recent announcement that it is moving from green PET to clear PET for its Sprite soft drink bottles to incorporate more rPET into the bottles.
Clear HDPE bottles are also preferred because white bottles can be mistaken for natural (clear) HDPE by the NIR scanners in the recycling centres. This results in the contamination of the clear HDPE material. SUEZ has contributed to the discussion though a series of roundtables and workshops.
Government funding supports development in plastics
Ten projects have been offered funding from government – sponsored UK Research Innovation (UKRI) and Sky Ocean Ventures to help find ways to tackle plastic waste. These include initiatives to create alternatives to plastic bottles, cosmetic beads and synthetic materials, as part of a wider effort to challenge single-use plastics and encourage consumers to reuse and recycle products. This announcement follows a commitment by government to provide up to £60 million in funding for ‘innovative solutions’ to plastic waste in December 2018.
Among those to have been awarded in the latest tranche of funding is Bath-based Naturbeads, which is developing a biodegradable alternative to microplastic beads found in cosmetics. London- based company Petit-Pli has also been awarded funding for baby clothes that grow with the wearer.
Environmental Audit Committee links food waste with food security
In their recently published report “Our Health, Our Planet” the Committee highlighted the risks to the UK from climate change and its impacts on food security, along with the lack of action to date. With food contributing to up to 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions, food waste was noted as key to enabling the government to meet its 2050 net zero carbon target, and an indicator of the move towards a more sustainable food system. The report recommends annual targets to reduce food waste across the whole supply chain, in order to drive progress towards net zero.
Audit Committee calls for EPR for furniture
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has called on the government to establish an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for furniture, “to invest in technology to ensure the safe disposal of hazardous wastes”. The recommendation came as part of the all-party group’s report into Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life, published in July 2019, setting out what the committee described as “the growing problem of chemical pollution” in home furnishing items. EAC’s report focused in particular on chemicals used in everyday products, such as furniture, food and toys, and the environmental and human health problems associated with them.
The EAC’s report said that “it would not be possible to implement its ambitions” without a rapid transition to a more circular economy for chemicals. According to the EAC, furniture retailers have indicated that they would be supportive of such a scheme.
The EAC also reiterated previous recommendations in its report into the fashion industry, calling on the government to introduce legislation which prohibits the landfill and incineration of consumer products containing chemicals which may cause harm to the environment, workers and communities.
Businesses may face mandatory food waste reporting
Defra’s food surplus and waste prevention champion, Ben Elliot, announced in July 2019 that he expects the government would legislate on surplus food reporting if progress was not seen in the next two to three years. “One of the main challenges is the lack of transparency around food surplus and food waste,” said Mr Eliot, explaining that he would like to see greater awareness of which companies are performing well, helping customers to make informed decisions. He added: “I would love to hear that people are saying ‘no, I won’t eat at x, y or z because they don’t redistribute their surplus food.”
Updated greenhouse gas calculator for London
An updated greenhouse emissions calculator has been released by the Greater London Authority (GLA) in order to measure the impact of waste services. The calculator will help councils, or any organisation involved in waste management, to measure the climate change impact of their activities against the GLA’s emissions performance standard (EPS).
The EPS encourages local authorities to implement environmentally friendly practices to help cut waste and boost recycling, such as introducing segregated food waste collections, recovering more plastics from residual waste or switching to electric vehicles. As well as measuring progress towards the EPS, the calculator can be used to model the potential impact of future activities and service changes, and which waste service changes will have the most impact on reducing carbon emissions.
Alongside the crucial impact this will have on London’s contribution to the climate crisis, the changes to waste management services made as a result of meeting the EPS targets should also see air quality improve across the city.
Labour pledges Green New Deal
At their recent party conference, Labour members supported a motion to include their proposed Green New Deal in their party manifesto, pledging to invest in the UK to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030, by creating a green economy through investment in the UK’s ability to decarbonise.
Gate fees at MRFs on the rise
MRF gate fees and anaerobic digestion (AD) for commercial waste have been reviewed for the first time by WRAP, and the commercial gate fee for dry mixed recyclates sent to MRFs was approaching disposal costs. Fees for 2018 were typically £55-£70 a tonne going up to a maximum of £90 a tonne. Consensus was that commercial gate fees for dry mixed recyclates sent to MRFs would creep up as operators chase quality and reject more contaminated material, as end markets for recyclates, such as China, are demanding better quality and lower contamination levels than in the past.
The report also concludes that the market was moving to a fixed MRF gate fee plus commodity price adjustments, to minimise operator risk. The market is moving towards a monthly, three-monthly and six-monthly price review to take into account commodity price fluctuations.
EU opens ELV directive review
The European Commission has launched a public consultation (open until 29 October 2019) on its current end-of-life (ELV) vehicle legislation. It is asking for feedback on Directive 2000/53/EC, which manages the impact ELVs can have upon the environment and seeks to improve the environmental performance of all the economic operators involved in the lifecycle of vehicles.
The EU Circular Economy package, which was finalised in May 2018, outlined that the ELV directive must be reviewed and any revisions submitted to the EU Commission by December 2020. One of the key components of the directive is the target for the recycling of vehicles at the end of life. Latest data showed that the UK failed to meet the 95% ELV recovery rate in 2016, after recycling rates dipped compared to the previous year.
EA to put organic sector under closer scrutiny
The Environment Agency (EA) has launched a review of permitted waste sites within the bio-waste sector, which includes composting, anaerobic digestion and mechanical biological treatment.
EA carries out a review of the sector to improve performance and quality of recovered material. The review will ensure bio-waste operations, including anaerobic digestion and composting, are regulated consistently. The review will also take into account recent changes to legislation, including the requirement of the Industrial Emissions Directive, which requires compliance with best available techniques and emission limits.
The review follows a series of industry consultations on the revised standards and proposed changes, and the EA said it expects to publish a standard rules consultation before Christmas 2019.
The EA have stated that the bio-waste sector was “critical” to a closed loop, circular economy and was “particularly important” in helping to support agriculture, reducing the need for inorganic fertilisers, mitigating against decreasing soil quality, helping to meet renewable energy targets and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The review will begin with bespoke installations permits and sites that present the highest risk or poor performance. Waste operation permits will undergo a similar process, due to start in the late 2019.
SUEZ has contributed to previous consultations and will welcome the EA to our sites in due course.