The polluter pays: UK waste and recycling overhaul

UK Statistics

The latest statistics show that the UK is not meeting its recycling targets. As a result, the government has launched new proposals aiming to change how the UK approaches waste and recycling. These are based on the principle that the polluter should be the one to pay for the recycling or disposal of waste.

While there have been improvements to recycling, they are small.  This means it’s likely that the UK will be short of the targets set by the EU for 2020.

  • Waste from households increased from 45.2% in 2016 to 45.7% in 2017.
  • Biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill was 7.8 million tonnes in 2016 and 7.4 million tonnes in 2017.
  • Provisional figures for packaging recycling or reuse are at 70.2%, which exceeds the EU’s target.
  • Estimates for commercial and industrial waste are 41.1 million tonnes for 2016 and 37.9 million tonnes for 2017.
  • Of the 222.9 million tonnes of UK waste generated in 2016, 85% was from England.

 Defra consultations

As part of its “Resources and Waste Strategy”, Defra has published three consultations, laying out its proposals. The new strategies include:

  • Extended producer responsibility: Packaging producers will be expected to bear the full cost of dealing with their waste. This will be instead of the 10% that they currently pay. Schemes for dealing with harder-to-recycle materials such as cars and batteries will be reviewed.
  • Consistency: Nationwide collections will be made more consistent. It’s also recommended that packaging labels to show what can be recycled become more consistent to avoid confusion.
  • Food waste: The consultations recommend weekly food waste collections for every home and business in England. Introducing garden waste collections is also a possibility, although it is not yet clear how it will be funded.
  • Deposit return scheme: This would be launched nationwide to encourage the recycling of cans and bottles.
  • Tax: A new plastic tax is planned for April 2022. This will cover the production or import of plastics with less than 30% recyclable materials.
  • Waste crime: Electronic tagging of waste will be compulsory, and there will be tougher penalties for rogue waste crime operations.
  • Sustainable production: More efficient product designs are to be encouraged. Defra promise further investment for innovation in this area.


In general, the Defra proposals have been welcomed by waste industry groups. Environmental campaigners have been more measured in their approval, hailing it as a step in the right direction. They do stress though that more needs to be done.

A group of trade bodies from the packaging, drink, food and farming sector have raised objections. The changes are being proposed at a time of overwhelming change for businesses as the UK enters the final stages of withdrawing from the EU. With their attention focused on Brexit planning, they feel that they would be unable to fully engage in the new waste and recycling proposals.

However, the government has proceeded with the consultations and intends to include the measures in the Environment Bill scheduled for introduction early in the second session of Parliament.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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