We generate about 177 million tonnes of waste every year in England alone. This is a poor use of resources and costs businesses and households money. It also causes environmental damage - for example, waste sent to landfill produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
We want to move towards a ‘zero waste economy’. This doesn’t mean that no waste exists - it’s a society where resources are fully valued, financially and environmentally. It means we reduce, reuse and recycle all we can, and throw things away only as a last resort.
The waste prevention programme for England
To help people and organisations make the most of opportunities to save money by reducing waste, we have published the Waste Prevention Programme for England. The programme sets out to:
- encourage businesses to contribute to a more sustainable economy by building waste reduction into design, offering alternative business models and delivering new and improved products and services
- encourage a culture of valuing resources by making it easier for people and businesses to find out how to reduce their waste, to use products for longer, repair broken items, and enable reuse of items by others
- help businesses recognise and act upon potential savings through better resource efficiency and preventing waste, to realise opportunities for growth
- support action by central and local government, businesses and civil society to capitalise on these opportunities.
Preventing food waste
We’re working with businesses in the food and drink sector to prevent food waste, which is a priority under the Review of Waste Policy in England (2011) and the Waste Prevention Programme for England (2013).
We’re making it easier for people and organisations to recycle more.
Improving the quality of recycled material
We’re taking action to:
- improve the quality of recycling collected from homes and businesses
- promote a stronger market for recycled materials - better quality materials will compete better on the domestic and international markets, and attract higher and more stable prices
The actions we’ve taken include:
- publication of regulations following a consultation on material recovery facilities to improve information on quality of recyclable material
- publishing a quality action plan which includes actions for government and others in the supply chain
Making businesses responsible for what they produce
The UK has laws that require some businesses to make sure that a proportion of what they sell is recovered and recycled. These producer responsibility regulations are based on EC legal requirements. They cover producers of:
We’re reviewing the way these producer responsibility regulations work to:
- make them more effective
- reduce the administrative burdens they place on business
As part of the review we have consulted on a number of suggested changes to bring coherence across the different producer responsibility regimes. A summary of responses will be available soon. Government plan to consult on proposed changes in to the regimes in due course.
Developing more voluntary responsibility deals
Government have worked with businesses to develop new voluntary responsibility deals. This means businesses take responsibility for ensuring that a proportion of the goods they produce are recycled, and for reducing waste.
Working with the waste industry
We’re working with the waste industry through the waste management responsibility deal to make sure that:
- it’s as easy as possible for business, particularly small business, to recycle and get information about how to reduce their waste
- businesses that perform well are recognised
- enforcement is based on risk
- the industry will improve its environmental performance
Improving recycling and waste collection from households
We’re taking a range of actions to improve recycling and waste collection from households.
Helping businesses reduce and manage waste
We’re encouraging councils to sign up to the business waste and recycling services commitment. This means that councils agree to:
- give clear information about their services
- work with businesses to reduce waste
We’re reducing the unnecessary burden of regulation and enforcement on legitimate businesses, but targeting those who break the law or harm the environment. This is part of our wider work to reduce the impact of regulation on business. We’re doing this by:
- carrying out the plans we set out in the regulation and enforcement section of the review of waste policy
- carrying out research to develop a better evidence base to inform approaches to regulation and policy
- work as part of the red tape challenge
Single-use plastic bag charging
On 14 September 2013, we announced that a 5p charge for single use plastic carrier bags will be introduced by October 2015. Defra have issued a call for evidence to help government define the details on how the charge will work.
Supporting energy from waste where appropriate
We support efficient energy recovery from waste. We’re working to increase the use of anaerobic digestion, which is the process of creating biogas from organic waste.
Getting the right infrastructure in place to deal with waste
We aim to have the right infrastructure in place to deal with waste as efficiently as possible.
To meet this aim, we’re giving local authorities £3.5 billion in grants for waste infrastructure projects. We also provide guidance to help local authorities carry out these projects.
Dealing with waste crime
Waste crime includes fly-tipping, the operation of illegal waste management sites and the illegal export of waste. It can damage the environment and human health, cause pollution, and harm local neighbourhoods.
We’re taking a range of measures to deal with waste crime, including:
- working with the Sentencing Council on sentencing guidelines for the courts on fly-tipping and illegal site operation
- bringing into force stronger powers for local authorities and the Environment Agency to stop, search and seize vehicles suspected of involvement in waste crime
- chairing the National Fly-Tipping Prevention Group
- using police intelligence to identify people concerned with the illegal export of waste
Regulating landfill sites and landfill waste
Landfill sites are regulated via environmental permits issued to the operator. The design, operation, monitoring, closure and aftercare of landfill sites is subject to the requirements of the EU Landfill Directive and the Council Decision on Waste Acceptance Criteria.
Landfill should be the option of last resort for most waste, especially biodegradable and recyclable waste.
We consulted on restricting wood waste to landfill. After carefully considering the written responses, we don’t believe that the time is right to introduce a restriction on wood waste to landfill.
We have committed to reviewing landfill restrictions, including for textiles and food waste. However a good understanding of the data and waste streams is vital to making decisions. We are gathering evidence to consider if landfill restrictions are a cost effective way of managing this type of waste.
Controlling hazardous waste
Hazardous waste is any type of waste that can harm the environment or human health, either immediately or over time. It must be strictly controlled. We’re working with the Environment Agency and industry to reduce the amount and level of hazard of wastes produced.
Ship recycling is a global issue. Our policy on the environmentally sound management of ships is set out in the UK ship recycling strategy.
Our policy is informed by the ‘waste hierarchy’: 5 steps for dealing with waste, ranked according to their environmental impact. These are set out in Article 4 of the revised EU Waste Framework Directive (Directive 2008/98/EC).
Waste prevention, which is the best option for the environment, is the highest priority, followed by preparing for re-use, recycling, other recovery and disposal.
The review of waste policy in England (2011) set out 13 commitments that will set us on the path towards a zero waste economy. It prioritises efforts to manage waste in line with the waste hierarchy and reduce the carbon impact of waste. We published a progress report on this work in 2012.
Defra’s priorities for waste management activities for 2014 to 2015 were set out in a letter to sustainable resource management stakeholders on 6 November 2013.
Bills and legislation
See our detailed guide about the legislation relating to waste.
Who we’re working with
The Environment Agency has a range of responsibilities, including regulating waste management facilities, monitoring and enforcement issues, and licensing and monitoring waste movement (including exports).
Local authorities are responsible for household and business waste collection services, waste disposal, enforcing waste legislation, dealing with fly-tipping, and encouraging good waste management (eg recycling) in their areas.
Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is funded by government to deliver our resource efficiency policies by working with businesses, local authorities, communities and households.
The European Commission is currently reviewing its waste legislation to ensure that it is working efficiently. It is starting to develop its future policies on areas like recycling targets and waste prevention. The Commission held a consultation into this from June until September 2013. The UK government issued a formal response to this consultation in September 2013.