Waste management in England - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Role of Defra

1.  Valuing waste as a resource is increasingly important for the economy and the environment. One of Defra's key priorities is to improve the environment. Sustainable waste and resource management should play a key role in achieving this aim. (Paragraph 6)

2.  The investment and innovative solutions that businesses bring to the waste management sector are invaluable, but this does not remove the need for a clear framework of Government policy, legislation and guidance within which such businesses can thrive. (Paragraph 15)

3.  We recommend that Ministers actively reassure interested parties that waste policy remains a priority. In order to address concerns in the sector, Defra should immediately clarify its definition and interpretation of "clear market failure", explain how the market is monitored by the Government for signs of such failure, and confirm the criteria which must be met to identify areas where businesses are "better placed to act". (Paragraph 16)

4.  Co-ordination and consistency between all Government departments involved with waste policy is essential. Defra's policies and guidance should not be undermined by contradictory messages from other Government departments. (Paragraph 21)

5.  We recommend that, rather than stepping back, Defra takes the lead role and responsibility for waste management policy as part of its departmental priority to improve the environment. This should include appointing a Minister with clear responsibility for co-ordinating across all governmental departments and ensuring consistency of approach in terms of legislation, policy, incentives and communications. (Paragraph 22)

Recycling rates in England

6.  We are concerned that the 2020 EU target of 50% household recycling will not be met in England without clear Government leadership and renewed policy drivers and support from Defra. (Paragraph 25)

7.  We urge Defra to work alongside WRAP and industry to develop a comprehensive plan to be implemented in the event that England's recycling rate continues to slow. We recommend that Defra learns from successful approaches in countries such as Wales and Ministers consider introducing refreshed policies and re-introducing requirements such as statutory recycling targets for local authorities alongside the requisite funding support. (Paragraph 28)

8.  On balance, we conclude that local authorities should remain responsible for addressing the specific challenges and barriers to increasing recycling rates that they face at a local level. However, there is scope for guidance and best practice to be shared at a national level in order to move towards a more standardised approach and to assist local authorities to improve their individual performance.
(Paragraph 34)

9.  Defra should facilitate and encourage learning from best practice actions to help local authorities gravitate towards the best possible service in their area. Working with the Local Government Association, we urge Defra to share information on successful approaches with local authorities to enable them to develop the most effective services for their particular local circumstances. (Paragraph 35)

10.  Successful communication campaigns must be sustained to keep householders engaged. We commend the work of WRAP and Keep Britain Tidy and strongly believe that the research, advice, support and information provided by these organisations is invaluable. (Paragraph 39)

11.  We are concerned that, despite the significant achievements of both organisations, Defra's funding for WRAP and Keep Britain Tidy has reduced over recent years. We urge Defra to increase the funding if evidence suggests it necessary in the lead up to 2020. (Paragraph 40)

12.  Householders have a key role to play in increasing recycling rates, but household engagement must be improved in order to tackle the common challenges of householder confusion, lack of confidence in the process, and contamination of recyclates. Recycling rates could be significantly improved by the provision of consistent, simple and concise information. (Paragraph 46)

13.  Communication needs to be tailored to local circumstances but Defra should engage with local authorities and provide support at a national level, particularly in relation to common issues and problem areas. We recommend that Defra considers compulsory publication of an annual Register of End Destination of Recyclates by all local authorities and waste management companies involved in the recycling chain, in order to improve access to information and public confidence. (Paragraph 47)

14.  We support Defra's Reward and Recognition Scheme and expect Defra to use the results to identify and support best practice schemes to be used as prototypes for other local authorities to follow. (Paragraph 50)

15.  In accordance with the waste hierarchy, we encourage a move towards banning the landfilling of all recyclable waste by 2025 as landfill should only be used for wastes for which there is no better recovery option. However, any such proposals must be signalled well in advance, with appropriate support and alternative infrastructure put in place to guard against disproportionate cost burdens. (Paragraph 54)

16.  Meeting a 70% recycling target in England for all household waste by 2030 would be challenging but Defra should aspire to achieve recycling rates at the maximum feasible level, with or without European targets. (Paragraph 55)

Residual waste treatment

17.  We recommend that Defra analyses data on waste flows and waste flow forecasts in order to provide the waste sector with clear guidance on how much energy-from-waste infrastructure capacity is needed in England to gain an optimal balance between export and local treatment. (Paragraph 60)

18.  We commend Defra for issuing a call for evidence on the practice of exporting RDF and we look forward to Defra's response in due course. (Paragraph 63)

19.  We recommend that, in its response to this Report, Defra include an assessment of the economic impact of building the infrastructure needed to treat the RDF currently exported compared with the economic impact of the current practice of exporting RDF from England to other countries in Europe. (Paragraph 64)

20.  We agree with Defra that the greatest benefit of anaerobic digestion is in dealing with waste feedstock, not purpose-grown crops. However, sourcing appropriate waste feedstock on a consistent basis remains a significant challenge for AD operators and more work is needed to address the issues surrounding separate food waste collections. (Paragraph 70)

21.  The Government must find ways of diverting more food waste out of the residual waste stream by methods which are economically and environmentally viable and suitable to local circumstances. Where food waste is separately collected it should be treated at local AD plants whenever possible to address the problem of sourcing waste feedstock. (Paragraph 71)

22.  In order to improve the confidence of agricultural customers and improve the stability of the market for digestate, we recommend that further research is undertaken to determine the long-term effects of AD digestate on the quality and composition of soil and crops. (Paragraph 73)

23.  The Government should encourage the use of heat outputs from incinerators for local district heating for buildings and/or for industrial processes to gain maximum efficiencies from incineration processes. Defra should explore the barriers to using heat recovery and collaborate with DECC and DCLG to ensure that Government policies, planning permissions, permits and incentives are all aligned to enable higher efficiencies for incineration plants. (Paragraph 76)

24.  In most cases, the environmental benefits of recycling household waste are higher than sending it to energy-from-waste technologies such as incineration. However, we do not think that high levels of recycling are incompatible with the use of incineration for genuinely residual waste. (Paragraph 82)

25.  We urge Defra to ensure that waste sent to energy-from-waste plants such as incinerators is only genuinely residual waste. We ask Defra to assess whether the use of gate fees is sufficient to achieve this aim and to confirm whether additional interventions, such as regulatory requirements to remove dry recyclables or higher gate fees have been fully considered. (Paragraph 83)

26.  We commend the work of the Environment Agency assisting operators with the problem of waste fires and we support the work being undertaken by the Chief Fire Officers' Association in relation to this serious issue. (Paragraph 88)

27.  We expect Defra and DCLG to take action to address the frequent occurrence of fires at waste management sites and to support the development of the fire code of practice by the Chief Fire Officers' Association. Defra must ensure that additional resources are deployed in the best way possible to monitor and enforce the conditions of the requisite permits. (Paragraph 89)

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Prepared 22 October 2014