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Delivering consistency in household and business recycling

25 June 2021

In this article, our public sector experts discuss some of the key consultation proposals and the potential impact they may have on Waste Collection Authorities and the households and businesses that depend on them.

The proposals in the Consultation on Consistency in Household and Business Recycling in England (the "Consultation") have the potential to bring significant change in how waste is processed in England. In this article, we discuss some of the key Consultation proposals and the potential impact they may have on Waste Collection Authorities ("WCAs") and the households and businesses that depend on them. 

The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs ("DEFRA") published the Consultation in May 2021 and are seeking stakeholders' view on the proposals until 4 July 2021. Broadly speaking, the proposals relates to "measures to improve the quantity and quality of household recycling" (the "Household Measures") and "measures to improve the recycling of non-household municipal waste from businesses and non-domestic premises" (the "Non-Household Measures"). 

The Consultation will be used to inform how the Environment Bill powers should be developed and how these policies for waste collection in England should be implemented. 

In the wider context, other initiatives have included:

This new consultation builds on the earlier consultation completed back in February 2019 on the same subject matter. 

Household Measures

The Household Measures include proposals to bring greater consistency to waste collection. In future regulations, DEFRA intends to specifically list the "materials" which WCAs will be required to collect including: 

  • glass bottles and containers (such as drinks bottles, condiment bottles and jars);
  • paper and card (such as newspaper and cardboard packaging);
  • plastic bottles (such as clear drinks containers, HDPE milk containers, detergent, shampoo and cleaning product containers); and
  • plastic pots, tubs and trays.

In addition to the items listed above, DEFRA also proposes that "the recyclable waste streams will…include the following items":

  • aluminium foil and food trays;
  • steel and aluminium aerosols;
  • aluminium tubes; 
  • metal jars and bottle lids;
  • food and drink cartons; and
  • plastic films.

Recognising that "most local authorities already collect the majority of [the above] materials" DEFRA expects "all local authorities to be able to collect these materials…by the end of the financial year" to align with the commencement of payments to local authorities under Extended Producer Responsibility. The Consultation will, however, be used to inform any derogations and exceptions to this requirement.

Alongside the above proposals will sit a new "statutory requirement on Waste Collection Authorities to provide a separate food waste collection…at least once a week" for all "kerbside properties" as detailed in the forthcoming Environment Bill and a proposal for local authorities to separately "collect garden waste for recycling in the 2023/24 financial year." 

Non-Household Measures

A key Non-Household Measure referenced in the Consultation and set out in the forthcoming Environment Bill is a requirement for WCAs to separately collect the five recyclable waste streams "from other waste for recycling or composting". This will apply to "household waste from non-domestic premises" including "residential homes, educational establishments, hospitals [and] nursing homes" unless an exemption applies. Exemptions proposed in the Environment Bill are:

  • where the collection "is not technically or economically practicable";
  • where "there is no significant environmental benefit" in making the separate collection; or 
  • "if an exemption to [the] requirement is set out in legislation". 

Aligned with the Household Measures, "food waste [will also be required to] be collected separately from the other recyclable waste streams and residual waste".


DEFRA recognises that the requirements proposed in the Consultation will likely impose significant additional costs on WCAs. The UK government has already "committed to paying the costs of additional new burdens…in relation to consistency reforms" while "Extended Producer Responsibility will [create] a new funding stream to cover the collection and treatment costs for all packaging". These funding streams will go some way in helping WCAs meet the new requirements, however, there are a significant number of different technical solutions in play and a 'one size fits all' solution will take some time to organise.  It is also hard to say what that cost will be, given the range of changes that are likely to be needed and stakeholders involved. Current diposal arrangements and facilities will need to be modified to enable full compliance with the requirements (many of which are subject to complex PPP and PFI structures) and it may not be until 2030 at the earliest before the implications of the proposed changes start to take effect. 

If you are a public body considering how the measures in the Consultation on Consistency in Household and Business Recycling in England might affect your organisation, please contact a member of our national public sector team to discuss how we might assist you. 

Further Reading