Waste policy has seldom been under as much scrutiny as is the case in the last year. In the wake of David Attenborough’s expose of the plastic threat to marine habitats, consumer interest in resources, materials and waste policy has sky rocketed.
No clearer can this be seen than in the Treasury’s recent Call for Evidence on single use plastics which received the highest number of respondents than any other consultation in its history.
It is in this context that the Government published its English strategy for Resources and Waste shortly before Christmas. Under the leadership of Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, officials had been given reign to produce a bold and radical strategy. And there is every chance that if this strategy is enacted it will deliver on this mandate.
There is a lot of detail still be worked up. The strategy signals intent rather than specifics. But rather than just a focus on landfills and incinerators, this strategy considers what can be done upstream to limit the amount of waste that is ultimately generated.
What’s clear is that the government is keen to encourage products to be designed to last longer and are easier to recycle. To achieve this a variety of instruments are being considered:
- Use of eco-design to set minimum requirements for resource efficient product design with a commitment to match or exceed the EU’s eco-design standards for material efficiency and to mandate the availability of spare parts.
- Reform of extended producer responsibility regimes. There are currently four in place within the UK covering packaging, waste electronics and electrical equipment (WEEE), vehicles and batteries. Over the next three years we can expect to see a roll out of these regimes adapted so that producers bear the full costs associated with the collection, treatment and recycling of these products, with some modulation depending on product design. The role of retailers and the regulation of distance sellers selling product via internet platforms into the UK is also likely to feature as will data security on devices once they have become waste (which was, weirdly, missing from GDPR). Consultations will be rolled out over the coming years starting with packaging (due quarter one) and with WEEE and batteries expected in 2020 (with much of the policy development taking place this year). techUK will be taking an active role in these discussions.
- Labels, labels, labels. There is a prevailing school of thought within environment policy making that if you want to drive consumer behaviour you create a label and its no surprise that Defra have signalled an intent to explore the role of ecolabels to communicate a products’ environmental performance. Whether this gains any traction, it remains to be seen. Plans to introduce carbon labelling fell flat when it failed to resonate with consumers. The EU’s eco-flower ecolabel also failed to chime with UK consumers. Guarantees and warranties will also be under scrutiny to assess when the regime could be tweaked to encourage more repair.
Elsewhere, among the policy announcements the Strategy announces plans to digitalise the movement of waste, more consistency in the materials collected from household, and a movement away from weight-based targets to “impact-based” targets. And more besides.
techUK will be working with members in responding to the Strategy through its consumer electronic manufacturers Waste and Resources Group. This will be complimented by quarterly waste policy teleconferences, which is open to all techUK members and associate members. To register interest please drop us a line.