UK government plans to migrate towards a circular economy

Date : 05 January 2019

On 18th December 2018, DEFRA released its new Waste and Resources Strategy, which is the first policy alteration in England since 2011.

A wide ranging strategy report

The policy paper details how the government plans to migrate towards a circular economy. The new strategy is ambitious in its scope, seeking to address how we can best preserve material resources, minimise waste and promote resource efficiency. This strategy document should be viewed alongside the longer term 25 Year Environment Plan, which outlines what the government will do to improve the environment within a generation.

The document, which contains eight chapters, outlines the need for action in a variety of areas from production and management of waste, to support for the consumer on making better purchase decisions and having improved recycling facilities available.

Defining responsibilities

Adoption of the “polluter pays” principle is laid out in chapter 1, and the extension of responsibility to producers for packaging, ensuring that producers pay the full costs of disposal for packaging they place on the market, is a major focus. The introduction of a tax on packaging that is not “at least 30% recycled” is planned to stimulate demand for recycled plastics.

Engaging with consumers and helping them to make more sustainable product choices has benefits for both the individual and the environment. As the life span of products, particularly electrical goods, has reduced in recent decades focusing on repairs and reusing of components is as important as environmentally positive recycling or disposal. The bold plan to ban plastic products where alternatives exists and supporting the market for remanufactured goods is another step that is outlined, along with upholding the Greening Government Commitments.

The ambition to improve both the volume and standard of household waste recycling, and rates in construction is supported by clear guidelines of dry recyclables that can be collected from homes and businesses. The aim to encourage recycling within the UK and limit the amount of waste exported for processing abroad is linked to an ambition to drive greater efficiency of Energy from Waste (EfW) Plants.

Reducing and redistribution of waste

Waste crime has a significant detrimental impact on the economy, stopping resources being properly recycled or recovered and being fed back into the market. With the aspiration to become a world leader in resource efficiency and productivity, the UK has ambitious goals of doubling productivity from resources and minimising avoidable waste by 2050. Action to reduce waste crime will increase ensuring resources are redistributed in the most beneficial way possible.

Reducing food waste has a high profile in this strategy document, the only material to have its own separate chapter. Food waste will remain a high priority for government and for industry in 2019 and beyond. The Food Waste Measurement Roadmap, developed by WRAP & IGD and which was launched in September 2018, is central to the approach. DEFRA intends to introduce mandatory annual reporting on food waste, with a consultation to inform how this should work.

A consultation on mandatory separation of food waste for collection by local authorities is also proposed. At the time of writing, it is unclear what the timing of the proposed consultations will be.

Pollution and environmental damage is not limited to the geographical location where it originated. Therefore, coalition across borders is required to drive international change. The Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance was created in 2018 and is one initiative in place to eradicate single-use plastics and avoidable plastic waste reaching the oceans.

Data and research

An investment in research and innovation is needed to ensure that government ambitions can be realised. Supporting the development of new solutions and/or improving the effectiveness of existing approaches will be critical. The report signposts the work done by Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and looks to investigate the areas of bio-based and biodegradable plastics further.

The final chapter focuses on how insights, information and data will support the application and development of policies. There are some significant changes in the way that reporting will be done now, reflected in the move from weight-based targets to those that are focused on impact, with an initial emphasis on carbon and natural capital. There will also be a need to work alongside technology partners to ensure that new approaches are developed for tracking waste.

IGD will be working closely with WRAP and with industry as whole, to ensure as many organisations as possible can benefit from the resources and guidance available already.

Lucy Henderson

Lucy Henderson

Project Manager -
Learning and development

The UK’s largest retailers, food producers and manufacturers, as well as hospitality and food service companies have committed to milestones laid out in a new ground-breaking industry food waste reduction roadmap, developed by IGD and WRAP to tackle food waste in the UK.

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