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Government plan goes to waste

November 2020
Michael Salau and Jade Archer

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has consulted on a revised Waste Management Plan for England (“the Plan”). The consultation, which ended on 20 October, forms part of the requirements stipulated in the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 (“the Waste Regulations”) to revise the Plan every six years (and will replace the previous Waste Management Plan from 2013).

The Plan reviews the current waste management situation in England. It considers the quantity of waste that there is in England and how it should be managed. The Plan reflects the policies included in the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, published in 2018, and will sit alongside the Waste Prevention Programme for England, which sets out the roles and actions for government and others to reduce waste arising and increase resource efficiency.

The consultation sought views on whether the Plan fulfils the obligations of the Waste Regulations and assesses England’s current waste management system, including the need for new waste collection schemes, new infrastructure and new anti-litter measures.

The Plan

All UK waste management policies should take into account the objectives of the Waste Regulations, as follows:

  • To protect the environment and human health by preventing or reducing the generation of waste;
  • Limiting the adverse impacts of the generation and management of waste; and
  • Reducing the overall effects of resource use and improving the efficiency of such use.

The Plan recognises that government cannot deliver the objectives of the Waste Regulations alone. Understandably, it requires action by businesses, consumers, householders and local authorities. The policies summarised in the Plan provide a framework for action by such groups. Waste planning authorities should have regard to this Plan – alongside the National Planning Policy on Waste and other planning policy contained in the National Planning Policy Framework, in drawing up, or revising, their existing waste local plans.

The Plan does not implement any new policies, but instead reflects /endorses policies laid out in the Resource and Waste Strategy 2018 (the RWS). It focuses on the application of the ‘waste hierarchy’ as a means to working towards a zero waste economy. This ranks options for waste management, with priority going to preventing the creation of waste in the first place, followed by preparing waste for re-use, then recycling, and then recovery. Disposal – in landfill for example – is regarded as the worst option and sits at the very bottom of the hierarchy.

The Plan seeks to achieve a long-term objective of shifting away from waste and towards resource efficiency, achieved by focusing not just on managing waste, but on managing the resources that become waste. It considers various categories of waste, including:

  • Household waste
  • Commercial and industrial waste
  • Construction, demolition and excavation waste
  • Hazardous waste

The Plan sets out objectives for the future including the government’s intentions in relation to those objectives.

Some of the main points are as follows:

Household waste

The government proposes to work with local councils to increase the frequency and quality of waste collections, encouraging household recycling by collecting consistent sets of dry materials from all households, collecting food waste every week and arranging for garden waste collection when necessary. These measures are expected to increase household recycling form current levels (44.7% in 2018) to a 65% by 2035. The Plan also proposes to extend existing bans on single use plastics such as straws, stirrers and plastic stemmed cotton buds to other items.


Currently the decision as to whether or not to offer a separate collection for food and garden waste is for local councils. The Plan confirms the government’s intention to introduce mandatory separate food waste collection from 2023 and to give further consideration as to whether or not garden waste collections should be free of charge across the board.

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste management practices and new infrastructure must meet existing regulatory requirements, including those of the Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005 and the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016. The government has developed guidance on applying the waste hierarchy to hazardous waste, to encourage further the provision of key infrastructure. The RWS also includes a commitment to consult on further ways to encourage hazardous waste producers to implement the waste hierarchy.

Construction and demolition waste

The construction, demolition and excavation sector is the largest contributing sector to total waste generation. This sector generated 120.3 million tonnes of waste in 2016, accounting for almost two-thirds (64%) of total waste generation. The composition of this waste can be broken down as follows: mineral waste from construction and demolition, 48%; soils, 43%; dredging spoils, 7%; metallic wastes ferrous, 1%; metallic wastes, mixed, 1%.

The UK has been comfortably meeting the target of recovering at least 70% of the weight of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste by 2020. Recovery rates have been over 90% since 2010.

Business waste

The Plan reinforces the proposal in the RWS that all businesses should have access to regular, efficient and affordable waste collection and recycling services, whether provided by the private sector or their local authority. Business are encouraged to consider waste as a resource and identity opportunities for waste prevention (which sits at the top of the waste hierarchy).

The government wants to increase the amount of household-like material collected from businesses and other organisations in the municipal waste sector to help the overall target of recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2035. To this end, separate collection of recycling from non-domestic, commercial and industrial premises has been included in the draft Environmental Bill.

The Environmental Report

An Environmental Report accompanying the Plan (“the Report”) provides the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) that is required under the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004. It identifies and considers the main environmental impacts of the Plan, allowing these to be considered in advance of implementation.

The Report’s conclusions can be summarised as follows:

  • The Plan, in general, will have positive effects on the environment.
  • Significant positive effects were identified, in particular, in respect of biodiversity, land use, geology and soils and on climatic factors.
  • No overall significant negative effects were identified.
  • New waste management infrastructure and the implementation of new waste collection services and deposit return schemes (principally emissions to air and disturbance associated with increased vehicle movements), could have a minor negative effect on biodiversity.

The Report can be accessed in full here.


The government has yet to publish the responses it has received to the consultation. The vison set out in the Plan is likely to be welcomed. However, early indications (from submissions published on the websites of responding organisations) indicate a strength of feeling that the Plan does not go far enough. We await the government’s summary of the response to the consultation with interest and will issue a further update in due course.

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