The houses of parliament at night

What central government can do

At NLWA we believe the government can and should be doing more to improve waste management and promote a circular economy in the UK. It is government that has the power to incentivise green business practices and investment, make it easier for individuals to waste less, and support local authorities to manage waste better. Here at NLWA we have repeatedly called on government to prioritise waste management and circular economy reforms, but unfortunately we have seen many crucial programs and reforms abandoned or delayed at the expense of our environment.

On this page we have outlined some of the specific actions we would like to see central government take. But perhaps above all, the most important thing is that the government improve their consultation with us and other local authorities. As the organisations responsible for implementing policy at the local level, we are best placed to advise on what will be effective. We urge the government to listen to our advice and offer greater consultation on waste management reforms in future.

Prevent further delays and problems with extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a crucial piece of legislation that will see manufacturers (rather than council taxpayers) liable for waste disposal costs. Though originally slated for 2023, it has now been delayed to 2025. There must be no more delays. The government should use the additional time until the rollout to consult closely with NLWA and other local waste management authorities to ensure the program is rolled out smoothly and with maximum effect.

Send EPR funding to local authorities

To ensure the EPR legislation is fully supporting better waste management, the funding should be sent back to local authorities to reimburse the actual costs of waste disposal. The legislation should also have safeguards that support local authorities to use the funding for waste management ahead of other priorities.  

GOVERNMENT FAILURE: EPR

The EPR legislation was first announced a full five years ago, in 2018, but has not yet been implemented. Following consultations in 2019 and 2021, the government originally promised that the EPR legislation would be rolled out in 2023. This date was postponed to 2024, and now 2025. 

Commit to the introduction of the deposit return scheme (DRS) in 2025

Five years ago the government announced that a deposit return scheme (DRS) would be introduced across England in 2025, allowing consumers to claim back money when they return plastic bottles and cans. However, there have been strong calls from business lobbying groups to delay the implementation. We urge that implementation is not delayed in England, as the long-term benefits of the scheme are clear, as can be seen from the schemes which are successfully operating in countries such as Norway, Switzerland, and Germany. We also urge the government for assurances that if DRS is not implemented on time, materials will instead be covered by EPR legislation. 

GOVERNMENT FAILURE: DRS

Though the government flagged the introduction of DRS as early as 2018, they have yet to provide any clear commitment on the start date or coverage of the scheme. Despite our repeated offers, we and other local authorities have not been offered any opportunity for consultation or feedback.

Ensure the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) targets the right people

It’s important for the climate that we all reduce our carbon emissions, and the waste disposal industry is no exception. But as waste authorities we are limited in what we can achieve – ultimately the most effective way to reduce the carbon emissions generated by waste disposal is to create less waste in the first place.

The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will penalise polluters by making them pay for their carbon emissions. While this will no doubt motivate some industries to reduce their emissions, in the waste sector this would only increase costs for the authorities who dispose of waste, while doing nothing to penalise the producers and industries that put unnecessary waste into our economy. The ETS needs to be better aligned with Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation to ensure the focus is on preventing waste at its source and building a circular economy.

Provide greater clarity and support on the management of POPs

The government has stated that they want to minimise the harms of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), poisonous chemical substances that take a long time to break down and can enter the food chain. While we agree this should be a priority, the government’s position has put pressure on local waste management authorities to manage the risks of POPs, while providing very little guidance on how to define POPs and how they should be safely dealt with. We’d like to see the government provide greater clarity on this, including a better explanation of the impact it will have on how recycling rates are measured. 

Reduce the production of single-use vapes, and make them easier to recycle.

AT NLWA we support a ban on single-use vapes, because they are a huge contributor to litter and incredibly difficult to recycle. An estimated 420,000 vapes are sold in north London every month, with more than half being littered on the street or going into general waste. This is the fastest-growing waste stream on the planet and needs to be stopped.

Reconsider the emphasis placed on recycling targets as a one-size-fits-all metric of success

The government has set a recycling target of 65% by 2035 – a far cry from the 44% actually achieved in 2020. While increasing recycling rates is certainly worth pursuing, it isn’t a silver bullet for waste management; recycling processes use energy and create carbon emissions, and materials can’t be recycled forever. So we believe that to really understand how well the UK is performing in its management of waste, we need to look at more holistic success measures. These should include evaluations of how much waste is prevented before its created, and how much carbon is produced. Against the measure of overall waste produced, north London performs better than most places in England.

Furthermore, central government needs to provide clarity on the local government impacts of the targets it sets. For example, while we welcome the government’s target to reduce residual waste per person by 50% by 2042, it has not been decided or communicated how this will translate to local targets.

Reduce single-use plastic waste

There are a number of quick wins the government could implement immediately to reduce single-use plastic waste, such as:

  • Incentivising the use of reusable period products
  • Introducing a 50p tax on single-use coffee cups
  • Banning plastic in wipes

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