From Chaos to Clarity: The UK's Legislative Drive for Simplified Recycling
Wednesday 8th November 2023
Why do we need recycling reforms?
The recycling system in England is, at best, confusing. We have 39 different waste collection systems, all run by local councils for household waste and further variants for businesses. There is no common understanding about what is and isn’t collected, or how items should be prepared: should they be washed or rinsed, crushed or not, and should lids be off or on? These questions can have very different answers depending on where you live (or work).
A person holding a recycling bin
What is ‘Simpler Recycling’?
The government hopes to address these inconsistencies through new recycling reforms, known collectively as “Simpler Recycling”. These reforms detail what all recycling systems (including businesses) must collect and by when the new system must be in place.
Food Waste Recycling
First addressed is garden and food waste recycling. All recyclers are required to collect these, and all producers are required to separate them for recycling. For our customers, this means that each business will need a food waste recycling service. If you don’t already have this, get ahead of the game set this up today.
The Recycling Problem
The new rules also mandate that a specific range of dry recyclables must be collected from all recyclers. These include glass, defined metal items, defined types of plastic, paper, and card, with a list of exceptions.
Recyclable plastics are:
- Pots, tubs, and trays
- Plastic tubes e.g. toothpaste tubes larger than 50mmx50mm (This is the size of the holes in sorting screens at UK recycling plants. Anything which falls through the 50mm x 50mm holes won’t get recycled)
- Cartons for food, drink, and other liquids
- Film packaging and bags, including metallised films (as used in crisp packets)
The metals that will have to be offered for collection to all households and businesses:
- Steel and aluminium tins and cans
- Steel and aluminium aerosols
- Aluminium foil
- Aluminium food trays
- Steel and aluminium jars and bottle lids
- Aluminium tubes
A person putting a metal tin into a metal recycling bin
Other than food and garden waste (which must be collected separately), there is still ongoing discussion about whether dry recycling should be collected ‘mixed’, or if further separation is required.
DEFRA’s recent documents suggest dry recycling will be allowed to be collected together, but not mandated. However, the evidence suggests that separate collections for card and glass give the best outcomes in terms of quantity and quality of materials recovered.
For this reason, Recorra will continue to offer these as separate collections. In future consultations, Recorra, the Confederation of Paper Industries, and others will continue to push and promote separate glass and card and paper recycling. Recorra will continue to collect books, even though they are not on the list.
Under the reforms, food waste from households must be collected weekly. Businesses are required to separate their food waste and arrange collections wherever they produce it, but they are not required to have weekly collections.
The key implementation dates for these changes are:
- 31st March 2025: for non-household municipal premises for all listed dry recyclables (except films and food waste)
- 31st March 2026: for all local authorities to separately collect dry recyclables and food waste from households
- By 31st March 2027, micro-businesses with under 10 employees will be expected to comply with the new standards (before that they have an exemption)
- From 2027, films/flexible plastics will be mandatory to collect for both businesses and households, in line with the new rules for Extended Producer Responsibility requirements covered in our earlier blog here.
For more details, the UK government has published a response that can be found here.
Tracking our trash
Finally we will see the introduction of a digital waste tracking service. This will be rolled out on a voluntary basis in 2024, but will become compulsory in 2025. For Recorra customers the impact will be that the waste transfer note system will be moved to an on line web based platform from the previous PDF transfers. This will make compliance more efficient. Recorra’s systems are largely digitized and well set up for such a change, and we will let you know in good time of any adaptations our customers may need to make may need to make to comply with the new systems.
There will also be better tracking of onward shipments of materials from our processing sites. That will be transparent to customers and will benefit the overall management of the recycling and waste market.
These changes will require a lot of groundwork. Film collection and processing in the UK alone is underdeveloped and requires a great deal of investment. There will be bumps along the road, but we now know what to collect and by when.
If all goes well, the current UK recycling rate should increase to 65% by 2035; for a number of years, it has been stuck at around 45%. Although it’s been a long time coming, clarity is clearly a good thing. Hopefully, simpler recycling will prove to be effective.