The Climate Change Committee Report 2022: what more for the waste industry to do?
In the sixth article looking at the key themes arising from the Climate Change Committee’s (“CCC”) 2022 Progress Report, Kirstin Roberts takes a look at the impact for the waste industry.
A version of this article was first published in the CIWM Journal for September/October 2022, which CIWM members can read here.
The CCC has recently reported on how the Government’s ambition to achieve net-zero is going. The 619-page report makes for sobering, if not downright depressing reading for the waste industry:
- Energy from waste (“EfW”) emissions in England are up;
- Recycling is down in Scotland and England;
- Little of the Environment Act 2021 can be implemented without secondary legislation; and
- Our sector needs a detailed decarbonisation plan.
I would add another concern: is the message of waste reduction getting through to businesses and consumers? There is lots to be done, and government inaction is causing frustration in our industry.
CIWM – whose ambition is ‘a World beyond Waste’ recently signed a joint letter calling on the Prime Minister to maintain the UK’s commitment to delivering net zero by 2050. Similarly, the Environmental Services Association, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee and the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers released a joint open letter raising concerns at delays to the government’s response to consultations on consistent collections and a deposit return scheme (“DRS”). They say that £10 billion of investment is needed in the next decade to meet Government’s ambitions, and delays are ‘causing supply chain pressures and unnecessary contract complications. Councils are now faced with extending contracts yet still further or procuring interim arrangements.’
The CCC reports that half of waste emissions are from decomposing waste in landfill, 25 per cent is from EfW, and emissions in 2020 are 65 per cent lower than in 1990.
Furthermore, ‘the indicator framework for waste suggests that efforts to reduce emissions are being stymied by a lack of progress in reducing waste arisings… coupled with increasing incineration of waste.’ In England, incineration is now more widespread than recycling.
It’s long been recognised that part of the fix would be separate food waste collections. The Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (“Defra”) initially announced that this would arrive ‘by 2023’, but after a second consultation round, and delays to legislation, this has been pushed back to ‘2023/24’.
In a similar vein, a consultation on the improved reporting of food waste by large food businesses in England has just closed. The idea here is that, if businesses have to measure their waste food, the cost saving they could make by reducing it will help the environment. Globally, one third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, and a fifth of territorial UK greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food and drink – needless emissions if the food is then wasted. But all we have currently is consultation – and even if the reporting rules it proposes are enacted, it will only affect large businesses that operate in England, i.e., those with an annual turnover of £36m, an annual balance sheet total of £18m, and at least 250 employees. Delays seem to be the order of the day. Defra plans to publish a summary of responses to its consultation on digital waste tracking in autumn 2022 (changed from summer 2022), and publication of the DRS and consistency proposals are now not expected until later in the year.
Former Environment Secretary George Eustice warned in a speech to the Food and Drink Federation in July that Defra will take more time on extended producer responsibility (“EPR”) reforms where he feels there is ‘risk’. However, Defra has rejected a call from the Food and Drink Federation to pause EPR because of the cost-of-living crisis.
The cause of these delays is not clear, although we can guess it’s down to a lack of Defra personnel who can finalise the work and a staffing freeze. What is clear, however, is that Government inaction on these key reforms is costing the public sector money, delaying much-needed investment and delaying reductions in emissions.
If the waste sector were to write a reply to the CCC report, it could be titled: ‘We’re doing lots; we should be doing more; we can’t do it on our own’. For meaningful progress to be made, it’s vital that industry and Government work together. As the CCC says: ‘Government should set out an ambitious implementation timeline for waste as part of the decarbonisation plan we have asked for.’
If you have any queries relating to the article, get in touch with Kirstin Roberts MCIWM.
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