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Government Waste Strategy fails to provide funding and flexibility needed to meet challenging recycling targets

17 July 2019

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has urged the Government to be less prescriptive in its approach to tackling waste and improving recycling levels.

Letter sent to Ministry to ask for improvements to waste strategy targets

The Government must give local authorities the freedom to develop recycling strategies tailored to the needs of their communities if the challenging targets in the Waste Strategy are to be met.

In the letter to the Minister for Local Government, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee criticises the current approach, set out in the Waste Strategy, as overly prescriptive and urges greater flexibility.

The Committee further calls for clarity on the extra funding pledged to support the extra demands placed on local authorities.

It warns that initial investment in infrastructure to boost recycling capacity will need to be followed by proven long-term streams of funding to cover ongoing costs.

The Waste Strategy cannot place extra burdens on local authorities without also providing the means to support them.

Having between 4 and 6 bins outside each home may not always be feasible. Requiring weekly food waste collections and free garden waste collection will cost the Treasury many millions.

The Committee has set out key recommendations to inform the Government's consultation on the Waste Strategy, having taken evidence on the issues as part of its ongoing inquiry.

A full report will be published later in the year.

Main recommendations to the Government

  • The Government is right to set ambitious targets for recycling, however it must allow local authorities greater flexibility in how they are achieved.
  • At times, the Waste Strategy seeks to dictate from the centre that which would be better determined by local decision makers. Current proposals seek to prescribe how many recycling bins are needed, the frequency of food and residual waste collections, and mandatory free garden waste collection may prove inappropriate for some councils. Local authorities should retain as much flexibility as possible to determine the most effective waste collection strategies for their communities.
  • More information is needed on the additional sources of funding that local authorities will receive to meet the additional costs arising from the Waste Strategy, including set-up costs and ongoing operation. Local authority representatives should be allowed to scrutinise the data that informed the Government's proposals and assess if additional funding is likely to be needed.
  • The proposed Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme – through which producers will bear a greater responsibility for the disposal of the materials they introduce into the system – is welcomed, but must prove a reliable, long term source of income. There should be greater clarity on how this money will be passed on to local authorities and the Government should commit to undertaking a regular review of the funding levels it delivers.
  • Existing recycling infrastructure is inadequate to meet ambitious targets and significant investment (potentially, £20 billion) will be needed. The Government will need to work with the industry to ensure that the right infrastructure is in the right places, and set-up at a reasonable cost. The Government should also commit to covering any costs for infrastructure improvement so that it does not get passed on to local authorities, producers or consumers.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts MP said:

“The Government has recognised the need for a comprehensive Waste Strategy with ambitious targets for improving recycling rates and reducing our impact on the environment.

However, we believe that the Government has set out the wrong approach for achieving these objectives.

The Government should not seek to dictate that which is best determined by local decision makers.

In determining how often waste should be collected, the number of recycling bins or what services should be charged for, the Government appears to have forgotten that what works in rural areas may not be suitable for cities.

Local authorities understand what the challenges are in their areas and should be given the freedom to tailor their approach to meet them.

Equally, the Government must ensure that the funding is there that will allow local authorities to rise to the challenge. It will require significant investment to improve recycling infrastructure, and ongoing waste management costs arising from the Government's proposals will be higher.

The Government has indicated it will provide more funding, but they must demonstrate that this will be adequate in the long-term.

Local authorities are already struggling, they cannot be expected to shoulder further burden without extra resourcing.”

Further information