Thank you for inviting me to speak at the launch of your Local Waste Review.
I am struck by one fact that reflects very well on the local government community. In 2011/12, the household waste recycling rate reached a new high of 43% in England. This is a significant achievement, especially when you consider that this rate stood at little more than 10% in 2001. Local authorities have been instrumental in this area, and I would like to thank you for what you have done to deliver this impressive outcome. It is important that we now work together to build on the successes already achieved.
However, I note today that many of the recommendations you have made in the report are aimed at central Government. I am both surprised and disappointed by that. There are substantial roles here for industry, and of course a massive, game changing, role for local government.
So let me ask you today what you are each going to do to take the standard of every local authority and bring it up to and beyond the standard of the very best.
We all face a tough financial future. It is more important than ever that local authorities work together as efficiently as they can. There are already good examples of joint working. For instance, local authorities in the south west have formed the Somerset and Dorset Waste Partnership, which integrates collection and disposal authorities into a single body. I know this isn’t always easy, and, as in many aspects of waste policy, one size doesn’t fit all. Defra provides help to local authorities through WRAP, who have already facilitated joint working between a number of local authorities and published advice and guidance documents on household waste, which can be tailored to local circumstances.
Just as local authorities will want and need to become ever more efficient, I also want us to work together to build on the excellent work already done to increase recycling rates. Here, I’m a firm believer in education and encouragement rather than prescription, giving people the opportunity to do the right thing. That is why Defra set up the Reward and Recognition Fund in 2011.
This has funded 25 organisations to trial schemes which support positive action like increasing recycling. For example, Milton Keynes Council and Coca Cola are piloting a scheme where community groups carry out small surveys to find out why people aren’t recycling, give them advice, and collect pledges to recycle more. The community groups receive financial contributions based on the number and impact of these pledges. We want to highlight the approaches which achieve the best results, and plan to publish a progress report later this year.
As well as issues of direct relevance to local authorities, I am pleased to see that your Review looks more widely at the domestic recycling industry and the contribution it and management of waste materials can make to the wider economy. Take quality of recycling material as an example. I want to see more value extracted from the thousands of tonnes of dry recyclates that households and businesses provide every day.
The current lack of information in the market for buyers and sellers can encourage lower quality output. We are working to ensure more transparency and consistency of information on quality to help create an environment that will drive improvements in the quality of recyclates. Our consultation on the mandatory Code of Practice for Materials Recovery Facilities (or MRFs) has closed and a Government response will follow over the summer.
Quality is also a central factor when thinking about the requirement to collect separately waste paper, plastics, metal and glass. Many of you will know about the recent Judicial Review which examined the way in which the Government had transposed this element of the Waste Framework Directive.
The Directive introduces the requirement for separate collection from 2015. It is subject to two important conditions. First, where it is necessary to facilitate recovery and recycling and second, where it is technically, environmentally and economically practicable. I am of course pleased that the Courts have agreed with our interpretation of the Directive and with our view that it should be for local authorities to make local judgements about where separate collection is necessary and practicable. I am also happy to record my thanks to the LGA for their support in defending our position against the Judicial Review challenge.
The outcome of legal proceedings does not however change the obligation on local authorities separately to collect the four dry recyclate materials where this is necessary to facilitate recycling and recovery and where this is practicable.
Each local authority will need to consider what this means for them and this may not always be straightforward. There are important issues that need careful consideration, for example, how best to reduce cross contamination by materials such as glass, and whether different collection arrangements might be appropriate in different parts of the same local authority. I have therefore asked my Department to work with the LGA and others to develop guidance. The aim of guidance is to help local authorities decide what the requirements mean, and how to assess what is technically, environmentally and economically practicable.
The Review makes mention of concerns that the Packaging Regulations currently incentivise the export of poor quality material, and that this has a negative impact on our economy. I am exploring whether changes are needed to the PRN system to ensure there is a level playing field here, and our domestic industry is not disadvantaged.
I should also like to say something about enforcement. I strongly believe that this should be proportionate, and targeted at the right people. Take fly-tipping as an example. Local authorities in England reported over 700,000 incidents in 2011/12. Clearance costs came to nearly £40 million, with nearly £20 million more spent on enforcement. This is not sustainable and the issue needs to be tackled robustly. Defra is supporting work by the Sentencing Council to ensure the sentences and fines for environmental offences, including fly-tipping, really do act as a deterrent.
On the other hand, it’s not proportionate to treat people like criminals for inadvertently putting their waste out for collection incorrectly. This is why I am amending the sanctions available in this area through the Deregulation Bill. Once legislative changes are made, local authorities will be able to use civil sanctions to deal with householders whose behaviour makes life more difficult for their neighbours.
Finally, I know we’re all aware of the need to prevent waste occurring in the first place, and I want to update you on our work in this area. I want to thank those of you who responded to our recent Call for Evidence on the Waste Prevention Programme - your input into this exercise is valued. I strongly encourage you to take part in our Consultation on the draft Programme, which will be launched in the summer before we publish the final programme later this year. We’ve recently launched the third phase of the Courtauld Commitment, our voluntary agreement with the grocery retail sector to tackle food and packaging waste. So far 45 signatories have signed up with a combined share of over 90% of the UK grocery market.
It is clear that preventing and managing waste efficiently and effectively will remain a challenge but your Review is a valuable contribution to the debate. I’d therefore like to thank all of you for your time and the LGA in particular for hosting this event and the work they’ve put into their Review.