Public concern over plastic waste, confusing recycling systems and the proliferation of single-use packaging and litter has never been higher. Society is waking up to the damage that waste is doing to our countryside and wider environment, so the fact that the government has now developed a plan for dealing with this is welcome. But what exactly does the strategy promise? And can it deliver?
Deposit return system
The government has restated its commitment – first made in March 2018 – to introduce a deposit return system for cans and bottles. This is a tried and tested solution, proven to boost recycling rates of beverage containers to over 90% – it’s a simple system we can all get behind.
While the design of the deposit system will be consulted on in early 2019, the strategy suggests the introduction of the system could be delayed until 2023. However, the system that the Scottish government will be introducing could start by the end of 2020, so it would make sense for England’s system to come on stream earlier than suggested.
Packaging companies currently only pay 7% towards the £1bn cost of dealing with waste they produce, with taxpayers footing the bill for the rest. This has to change.
The government says it will transfer the full costs of recycling and waste management away from councils and, onto those who produce, and profit from, the production of packaging. This principle of ‘polluter pays’ being embedded into the strategy is a huge step forward, but it will be crucial that companies fund proper collection systems for packaging and products, as well as modern recycling facilities, in order for it to have the most impact.
Consistent recycling systems
Recycling can be confusing, and many councils have different systems. The government has promised to ensure more consistent recycling systems across the country with the aim of driving up recycling rates. This is a welcome announcement and will work well if carried out in tandem with a better-funded recycling system with producers paying the full costs of the waste they produce.
Government have committed to providing all households with a food waste collection. Reducing the amount of food waste going to landfill is a necessary shift to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and by separating out wet waste (food) we’ll significantly improve the quality of the remaining dry waste that can more easily be recycled.
Crack down on waste crime
Fly-tipping is a huge problem in our countryside. The new strategy announces the government’s intention to crack down on waste crime, including large-scale illegal dumping and small-scale fly-tipping, by improving regulation and tracking of waste infrastructure. This is a large remit to cover but one we hope the government persevere with to prevent waste building up and damaging the environment and blighting landscapes.
So what does this mean for the countryside?
The government’s plan is a great first step in overhauling our waste and recycling systems, which are absolutely critical to keeping waste and litter out of our countryside and green spaces.
These measures could create the structural shift necessary to reduce litter in the countryside, towns and cities, waterways and oceans, through placing financial incentives on products – such as through a deposit return system – and by incentivising producers to design better packaging and create systems to ensure they are collected back in.
But many of the measures are still subject to consultation, which means that there is a risk of them being watered down before they come into effect. And the deposit return system we need might not be in place until 2023. So at CPRE we’ll be continuing to work to ensure the level of ambition in the strategy is reflected in reality. We know this plan must be delivered if we are to see the litter free countryside that we all want.
Maddy Haughton-Boakes, Campaign Officer - Litter Programme, CPRE
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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