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Government refuses to act to end 'throwaway society'

1 November 2014

Government continues to miss opportunities to tackle Britain’s ‘throwaway society’ and has rejected calls to require new products to be recyclable and stop food waste from going to landfill in its response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report Ending the Throwaway Society: Growing a Circular Economy.

The Environmental Audit Committee Chair, Joan Walley MP, said:

“The disposable society simply isn’t sustainable in the twenty-first century. Innovative companies in the UK, like B&Q and M&S, recognise this and are already demonstrating that using resources less wastefully is the future of business. Yet our Government seems to have its head in the sand and is refusing to take basic steps to reduce the amount of food and resources we waste.”

Reduce waste and increase resource productivity

In its report on how to create a more ‘circular economy’, published in July, the cross-party Committee called for lower VAT on recycled products, a phased-in requirement for new products to be recyclable and greater standardisation of waste collection services, including a ban on food waste being sent to landfill. In its response the Government claims to agree that it “has a role to play in developing [a circular economy]” but then goes on to reject the main substantive recommendations made by the Committee to reduce waste and increase resource productivity. In its response the Government says:

  • The Government has no plans to introduce greater standardisation in collection systems or compel councils to adopt household food waste collections. 
  • Differential VAT rates are too difficult to negotiate at EU level, and the Government sees no “necessity at this stage” for tax allowance changes 
  • It has “No plans to require the recyclability of all products coming onto the market...”

Anaerobic digesters

More than a third of food waste currently goes to landfill where it produces methane - a potent greenhouse gas. The MPs point out that this waste could instead be used in anaerobic digesters to produce biogas for energy or fuel and fertiliser for our farming system – creating value from waste.

VAT rates on recycled products

The Government argues that because VAT is governed by European law, any reliefs from VAT are strictly limited and there are no specific provisions that allow for actions to encourage the use of recyclable materials. However, Member States are allowed to implement a reduced rate of VAT for certain goods and services and the UK has previously reduced VAT rates on new build construction materials, energy and the professional installation of energy saving products.

Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Joan Walley MP

“If the Government is unable to introduce differential VAT rates on recycled products under existing arrangements, Ministers should make the case for a change in the rules at an EU level as part of the discussions due to take place on the Commission’s Circular Economy proposals.”

Recyclability of products

In its report the Environmental Audit Committee called on the Government to set out regulations to phase out products that are made from materials that cannot be recycled. Such standards would phase out inefficient products or hard to recycle materials by ensuring that companies design products that are consistent with the circular economy, have a clear end-of-life recovery route and are fabricated using easily separable and recyclable components. The Government has refused to introduce regulation that would establish the recyclability of all products coming on the market.

Joan Walley MP concluded:

"Breaking the link between primary resource use and economic growth is essential if we want to create a truly sustainable economic system that can cope with rising global demand and population growth. It is possible, and many businesses are showing real leadership in becoming more resource efficient. But we need the Government to create a framework where companies and consumers are rewarded for doing the right thing. The tax system should be used to incentivise products that are designed to have a lower environmental impact and support greater repair and re-use. Materials and products that cannot be recycled should be phased out altogether."

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