“Simpler Recycling” Reforms Laid Out After Two Year Wait

Written by Integrated Skills

Dec 5, 2023

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Recycling, Waste Management

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In late October 2023, the Government released the details of their recycling reform plan for England. It’s the first time we’ve heard from them on this subject for a couple of years, and the plans have been largely well-received.

The updated rules include a weekly food collection service (which should be in place across the country by March 2026), as well as unified rules for what can be recycled for all residents, educational establishments and businesses.

The aim is to “boost recycling rates and protect the environment”, but some industry experts are raising the usual questions of funding while also asking, do the new rules go far enough to really have an impact?

Here we’ll be discussing the effect of the new rules on local authorities, including their current fleets, future replenishment programs, route-planning, and budgets.


What Are the New Rules?

The Government announced their new rules via a press release on the 21st October 2023. Billed as a new, simpler, common-sense approach to recycling”, the two-pronged rules state that:

  • All local authorities will need to provide recycling services for a standardised list of materials regardless of location or current infrastructure (no deadline expressed) and
  • Provide weekly food waste collections by 2026

Still in the proposal stage and subject to consultation with local authorities, the details (such as by which date the ability to handle the list of recyclable materials must be in place) will be confirmed in statutory guidance.

Currently, food waste is largely taken to landfill. This is obviously less than ideal as food waste could be utilised for bio-fuel, and, as the UK sent 6.8 million tonnes of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) to landfill in 2021 (up from 6.1 million tonnes in 2020), something definitely needs to be done to reduce this wastage. Unfortunately, food waste poses a couple of issues:

  • It’s extremely heavy
  • It must be separated out from all other forms of refuse
  • It must be collected in a timely fashion to prevent odours and pests

Currently, only about 50% of English councils collect food waste separately, due to the above, and due to a lack of funding or infrastructure for the waste to be dealt with in a suitable manner. Most are waiting to see just where the funding will come from for the weekly food waste collection requirement.


What Challenges Will the New Rules Pose for Local Authorities?

The logistics behind such a huge change in requirements will be an issue that’s looming large for local councils. Even with the standardised list of recyclable materials put aside for now (due to a lack of deadline) they’ll be tackling some complex decisions to fall in line with food waste collection rules.

They’ll be faced with augmenting existing fleets (which may be owned outright, held on leases or a mixture of the two) and planning fuel-efficient routes for heavy food waste to be collected- all with no current guarantees around additional funding.

“The new rules on food waste collection are welcomed by the industry, but they do create some challenges for local councils- especially when considering the makeup of the existing fleet. Do they have the most suitable mix of vehicles to manage an increase in food waste collection? They will need to do lots of modelling of food collection tonnages by household and property type and match that to their current fleet capacity” Stuart Henshaw, Director of Business Development at Integrated Skills

Some may be able to exit leases just at the right moment, or to sell vehicles they own outright, enabling them to opt for more eco-friendly, electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles. They may even be able to obtain food waste-specific vehicles.

“Here is an excellent opportunity for city authorities especially to roll out electric or hydrogen vehicles, dedicated to food waste collection. In recent years there have been several food waste collection trials using electric vehicles which have proven to be very suitable and cost-effective in the city environment.” Alan Paget, CEO at Integrated Skills

For others who own their fleets, adapting current vehicles with food waste pods may be their only option, although this isn’t possible for all models.


A Question of Funding

Whichever options local councils go for, it’s clear that government funding will be required, however, no details have been released on that particular subject.

A National Association of Waste Disposal Officers spokesperson said “We do not have certainty with regards to funding, whether that is coming from the Government under the New Burdens doctrine for food waste, or from producers through EPR for packaging. Funding certainty is critical for local authorities to be able to make investment decisions at a time when they face increasing levels of financial pressure. 

In a time of squeezed budgets and financial uncertainty, we hope the consultation stages culminate in a clear funding plan for local councils to work with.


Will the Rules be Effective?

While dedicated food waste collections have been welcomed, the Governments continuing commitment to provide at least fortnightly residual waste collections has been seen as an undercut to the aims of the proposals. Many industry experts believe that, without a reduction in these collections, households will continue to dispose of food waste in their residual refuse bins.

Cathy Cook, Chair of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, has challenged the idea that weekly food waste collections will reduce landfill waste:

“We find the proposal to restrict residual waste collections to at least fortnightly disappointing. Collection Blueprints in Wales and Scotland have shown how limiting residual collections while providing weekly food waste collections is instrumental in encouraging recycling and minimising non-recyclable waste.

Feedback from our members underscores that, on average, 40% of household rubbish is food waste. Weekly and fortnightly refuse collections do not incentivise food waste recycling.”

Nina Schrank from Greenpeace gave her opinion to BBC News:

“The government is fiddling with a system that’s fundamentally broken… they need to get serious and back measures to cut the amount of plastic packaging we produce as a country in the first place.”


How Can Integrated Skills Help?

Regardless of the chatter around whether the new rules will have the desired impact, we’re poised to support local authorities through this transition.

Regardless of fleet types, route optimisation will be essential to keep costs and emissions to a minimum and to enable teams to plan for any new vehicles or adaptations to existing fleets.

We have worked with many local authorities to model the logistics of whether separate food waste collection vehicles should be a separate fleet or introduced as food waste pods on new RCVs being purchased.

Some Councils use both, a great example of which can look like this for fortnightly collections:

  • Week one: Food waste is collected by the main, frontline vehicles (with pods)
  • Week two: Food waste is collected by lower cost, lower impact food waste vehicles

If you’re not already working with us, get in touch today!

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