Waste Strategy fails to provide necessary flexibility

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has encouraged the government to be less prescriptive in its approach to tackling waste and improving recycling levels.

The group of MPs stress that the government needs to give local authorities the freedom to develop recycling strategies tailored to the needs of their communities if the challenging targets in the Waste Strategy are to be met. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee criticises the current approach, set out in the Waste Strategy, as overly prescriptive and urges greater flexibility.

It warns that initial investment in infrastructure to boost recycling capacity will need to be followed by proven long-term streams of funding to cover ongoing costs, arguing that the Waste Strategy cannot place extra burdens on local authorities without also providing the means to support them.

Among its recommendations to the government, MPs say that there must be more flexibility on how targets for recycling can be met, allowing councils as much flexibility as possible to determine the most effective waste collection strategies for their communities.

Furthermore, more information is needed on the additional sources of funding that local authorities will receive to meet the additional costs arising from the Waste Strategy, including set-up costs and ongoing operation. Local authority representatives should be allowed to scrutinise the data that informed the government’s proposals and assess if additional funding is likely to be needed.

Clive Betts, chair of the committee, said: “The government has recognised the need for a comprehensive Waste Strategy with ambitious targets for improving recycling rates and reducing our impact on the environment. However, we believe that the government has set out the wrong approach for achieving these objectives.

“The government should not seek to dictate that which is best determined by local decision makers. In determining how often waste should be collected, the number of recycling bins or what services should be charged for, the government appears to have forgotten that what works in rural areas may not be suitable for cities. Local authorities understand what the challenges are in their areas and should be given the freedom to tailor their approach to meet them.

“Equally, the government must ensure that the funding is there that will allow local authorities to rise to the challenge. It will require significant investment to improve recycling infrastructure, and ongoing waste management costs arising from the government’s proposals will be higher. The government has indicated it will provide more funding, but they must demonstrate that this will be adequate in the long-term. Local authorities are already struggling, they cannot be expected to shoulder further burden without extra resourcing.”

Martin Tett, Environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “We support the Committee’s calls for councils to have the flexibility and extra funding to ensure they meet the recycling challenges under the Waste Strategy, and for local authorities not to be forced to provide free garden waste collections or a minimum frequency of residual waste collections.

“Councils should be free to decide how to deliver their waste services locally, as various factors determine waste collection methods, such as property type and rurality. The onus is now on manufacturers to urgently up their game by using packaging that is fully and easily recyclable, and pay the full cost of recycling packaging. Ultimately, if councils are to improve recycling rates, the new Prime Minister needs to use the Spending Review to address the £8 billion funding gap councils in England face by 2025.”