Government’s programme of waste reforms – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: The Government’s resources and waste reforms for England

Date Published: 1 December 2023

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Government’s 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy aims to establish a circular economy, where products are reused, repaired, and recycled. However, five years on from the publication of the Strategy, there has been very limited progress. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (the Department) has been slow to develop its high-level ambitions into more detailed plans for delivery. Implementation of the strategy’s main programme, the collection and packaging reforms (the programme), is currently delayed by at least two years. The Department expects the programme to make a substantial contribution towards meeting its overall resources and waste ambitions, although the programme will not be enough on its own. The delays mean the Government is not building the momentum it needs to achieve its ambitions for reducing the environmental and economic costs of the waste that households and businesses create. Recycling rates have not improved since 2011, and remain below the 2020 target to recycle 50% of waste from households.

The Department recognises that it did not set up the collection and packaging reforms programme well from the start. As part of responding to recommendations from the Infrastructure Projects Authority, it has increased its project management capability and capacity, and has recently carried out a wider reset of the programme. However, the Department’s continued lack of clarity on both the programme and the long term waste infrastructure capacity that is needed has made it hard for businesses and local authorities to prepare for the changes they need to make, and this is actively hampering essential investment. This means there is a real risk of insufficient facilities to deal with the increased volumes of recycling arising from the reforms, meaning packaging will be incinerated, sent to landfill, or exported for other countries to deal with.

The Department has other work under way and planned, beyond the collection and packaging reforms, which it expects will contribute to achieving its resources and waste ambitions. However, the Department has not set out how the waste system as a whole needs to change. This means stakeholders in the waste sector, including those responsible for investing in new recycling infrastructure lack the certainty and clarity to invest.

The Department recognises that a critical part of minimising the damage to the environment from waste involves increasing waste prevention and reuse. Its target is to double resource efficiency by 2050, but it is not clear what the Department’s plans are for meeting the target.