Once again, good morning. We now hear oral evidence from the Food and Drink Federation, the Federation of Small Businesses and Veolia. We have until 11.25 am when the House will sit. For the benefit of the record, I would be grateful, gentlemen, if you identified yourselves and the nature of the organisation you represent, starting with Mr Curtois. I hope I have pronounced your name correctly. If not, please correct me.
Q Good morning, gentlemen. The Bill is generally recognised as having some good bits, on recycling materials and end-of-life concerns about materials in the part on waste and resources, but it has been widely criticised because it concentrates on those particular elements of the waste hierarchy rather than looking at ways in which the waste hierarchy could be driven up, as reflected in the waste and resources White Paper. Do you have any views on that? Do you think that there are any ways in which the Bill could be strengthened to emphasise the point that, actually, recycling is not the end of the road, as far as waste is concerned, and that other things—reuse, redesign and minimisation—have an equally important part to play?
In terms of the Bill, the resources and waste strategy that DEFRA devised is very strong—you are absolutely right—because what it does, in a number of different ways, is try to improve the whole process. It incorporates things such as “polluter pays”, so it puts the onus on manufacturers to design better. The inclusion of modulated fees in the extended producer responsibility puts a clear onus on manufacturers and producers to design for recyclability, and that will ultimately reduce waste, which is what we all want. Obviously, it involves elements including better segregation, for example, of food waste, which should reduce the carbon impact. It talks about taking the burden away from local authorities and putting it more on manufacturers.
You are therefore absolutely right to say that that is a strong element of the Bill, but I think possibly there should also be other things. As you say, at the top of the hierarchy are elements such as reuse. We operate many sites across the UK where we have voluntary arrangements, for example in Southwark with the British Heart Foundation, where there are various items that can be reused and that is done for charitable benefit. It may be that that ought to be looked at, possibly in the detail of the Bill, just to see where it can be done, because obviously it ultimately is the best way forward. It should at least get some consideration, because everything focused around the resources and waste strategy is primarily, as you say, on the recycling side. There is not much emphasis on residual waste, which obviously we need to avoid because we need to avoid landfill. I therefore think there could be some consideration in terms of reuse.
I also think that one of the best ways in which you can reduce waste right at the outset is by designing better. The Bill reflects that element of the resources and waste strategy, which we see in a very positive way, because so many manufacturers and producers have come to our site—some from not far away in south-east London—to see how they can design their products with perhaps less composites, in a better way, which will ensure that they are at least recyclable at the outset. That is the very start of the process, which we have to get right if we are to make significant change.
Yes, we do. I think what we would argue is this. As the previous contribution outlined, we obviously expect the extended producer responsibility reforms and the accompaniments to that in terms of consistency, and the focus much more on producers paying full net costs for the end-of-life management of packaging, to focus minds a lot more on the prevention side in itself. Having said that, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is a legal requirement, for those who handle waste and convey it to another person in the waste transfer system, to have regard to the waste hierarchy. That is a legal requirement; it is in the law as it stands at the moment. It is also a legal requirement in respect of packaging waste and packaging under the essential requirements regulations that producers who pack food products must have regard to using the minimum amount of packaging to maintain the necessary levels of safety, food hygiene, etc., and consumer acceptance. That is also a legal requirement that is enshrined in the legislation. In that sense, there are already legal requirements around maintaining a focus on prevention, in the sense of how we regulate the waste hierarchy. While it is right that there is a lot of focus on recycling in the resources and waste strategy, we feel that that is part of a bigger picture.
We should not lose sight of voluntary activity around this space. Our members’ commitment to reducing food waste has been documented in some figures that the Waste and Resources Action Programme recently published that show that the food and drink manufacturing sector has reduced food waste by 30% since 2011. Half that reduction has been achieved between 2015 and 2018. That is on a per capita basis measured against the target of the sustainable development goal of the United Nations. So there is a focus on source reduction, whether through legal mechanisms that are already in place, but also in terms of the voluntary work that our members are engaged in.
I agree with the assertion that reuse and reduction are equally important to recycling. It is worth bearing in mind the sheer diversity of the small business audience, which operates across myriad different sectors and in very different ways from one another. It is also worth bearing in mind that many small businesses operate as both producers of materials and consumers. It is worth understanding the very different issues that they face. For many, particularly those operating as consumers within the parameters set by the business, it is clear that recycling will be some low-hanging fruit. When we compare our recycling rates with other countries in the world, clearly some rapid improvements should be made. However, I take the point that it is equally important to look at reuse and reduction as well.
Q Clause 52, in the context of recycling and minimisation of waste, provides for charges for single-use plastic items. Do you think this clause clarifies its purpose sufficiently? Is it about minimising single-use items, or is it about reducing the role of plastic in single-use items? First, do you think that a clause such as this would work in reducing single-use items in the food and drink industry, for example? Do you consider that it might be prudent to concentrate on the fact that single-use items can be made of more things than plastic and that amendments to the Bill might make that clear in terms of how the single-use environment might develop?
Our comments are framed around single-use plastic packaging items, which is our interest in terms of plastic. Basically, our view is that a better way to achieve this kind of outcome would be to deal with this within the refinements to the extended producer responsibility system and the reform programme, in the sense that you could do this through modulated fees, as a much better way of achieving the same sort of outcome. In that way, we would be sure that the money raised from such an approach would be used to improve the system. That is a vital principle of FDF: that the moneys we raise through increased producer fees are used to improve the system of recycling and that those moneys do not get channelled off into other expenditure demands. That is a very important principle that we hold dear in FDF. We have to be mindful that alternatives to plastic materials may also have an impact; it is not only plastics themselves. If you switch to some other materials, you have to look at their life cycle, including perhaps at how they are mined. They all have impacts that we need to consider.
In terms of the clause in the Bill for this, we suggest that any introduction of a charge should be subject to some form of public consultation. We are a little bit concerned that this could be taken forward in a way that did not involve any public debate or allow interested stakeholders to make representations.
It is really important for the Government, through the legislation, to make clear the objective of requirements such as this and what they want small firms to do differently from what they are doing already. When looking across environmental legislation, I will talk a lot about pathways to change. We want to set out not only the reasoning behind the legislation but what businesses should be doing differently, and how the Government see them doing it differently.
In terms of single-use plastics, we can compare that to the carrier bag charge, which has worked fairly successfully. Businesses, on the whole, were quite happy to adopt that. It was clear that the outcome was to be a reduction in those bags. There were also some obvious ways of doing things differently that could have achieved the same outcome. It is just about making clear what that outcome needs to be and what businesses should be doing differently to achieve the same thing.
On the point made earlier about plastic, post the David Attenborough programme and others, there was almost an overreaction against plastic, in the sense that people to some extent forgot its value in food preservation and were effectively looking to ban it. One problem we have to take into account, so far as plastics are concerned, is that, as was mentioned, the environmental consequences of using other products can sometimes be worse. That is obviously something that we want to steer clear of.
We also need to be careful about using the right plastics. Moving to a system in which products are manufactured primarily from high-density polyethylene, polypropylene or polyethylene terephthalate, or from a single-source product—with one plastic used for the bottle top as well as the bottle, for example—would make it a great deal easier to recycle. For example, we have a plant in Dagenham, in east London, where we effectively recycle many of the plastic milk bottles used in London, turning them into plastic pellets. Obviously, from our point of view, that single-source aspect is very important. That element needs to be taken into account.
I can understand why the focus has been on single-use plastic items first, because it has been the biggest element that the public have leapt on, in terms of recycling and in terms of wanting change, so I can see why priority has been given to that. If we can start to get that right and start to make changes that mean—for example, we have developed some kit that recognises the black plastic used in TRESemmé shampoo bottles, because of the pigment within it, which allows us to recycle that more efficiently. Significant changes can be made that could start to reduce the environmental impact quickly, which I think we all want.
Q Mr Bellamy clearly highlighted the legal requirements already in place on a lot of waste and recycling issues. There is the waste strategy, which has the reuse, recycle, longer-life element to it, which is very strong. Will you give us business’s point of view on how the Bill will move us towards what we call the circular economy? What opportunities will that provide for businesses in particular? Maybe you could give special thought to the Bill aligning all local authority recycling collection services across the country. What sort of opportunities might that, among other measures, offer businesses?
Clearly, the powers in the Bill on extended producer responsibility, introducing a deposit return system and collection consistency—provided these systems are developed holistically together, and are joined up—will, combined, revolutionise our recycling system in the UK. As I say, we need to be mindful of unintended consequences. That is why they need to be developed holistically: so we have a coherent system.
Consistency is an essential piece of this jigsaw that we do not want overlooked in taking these reforms forward. If producers are asked, for example, to label their packaging as either recyclable or non-recyclable in a binary system, it is vital that we bring the public with us on that journey. The collection system needs to be in line with that change, and consistency will need to be in place, ready, in time for this new producer responsibility system. That is vital for the FDF and its members. We support that approach.
We would also like a very early signal from Government that they plan to include plastic film in that core set of materials, for consistency. We may even be able to accelerate that faster than the work of the UK plastics pact, which I think is looking at 2025. We may be able to do that sooner with the right co-operation in the chain. We would like to be ambitious in that regard. By that, we mean mono-material and multi-material films, and we include cartons in that aspiration as well. We would like the Government to be more ambitious on that. Let’s get this right from the start, so the local authorities have the right signals from Government about the consistency in the core set of materials, and develop the infrastructure accordingly from the outset. That is very important to us.
I mentioned earlier that it is important that all the money raised by producers in this new system goes towards improving the system. That is why we have separate issues with the plastics tax; it does not adhere to that principle, because we have a policy of non-hypothecation in the UK. We are not in support of a plastics tax; we are in support of reforming the producer responsibility system through a few modulated fees, which would then be used to improve the system.
One specific issue we have is the exponential cost our members face in buying the packaging recovery notes. You may be aware that these prices have gone up exponentially over the past year or so for plastics and aluminium. There is no evidence that this additional money—our members are paying hundreds of millions of extra pounds in these costs—is going towards improving the recycling system. We are happy to pay the extra money, but we want to see the improvements in the system. We would like a meeting with the Minister as soon as can be arranged to discuss a range of options that we have set out in a written submission to Government about things that can be done in the shorter term to address this PRN crisis, as we regard it, within our membership. We would like the Minister to reconsider our request to have that meeting as soon as possible.
From our point of view, one of the things that has become abundantly clear over the past few years is that our members as small businesses are saying that they want to do the right thing, and they want to demonstrate to their customers that they are doing the right thing. Talking about the holistic approach to waste and recycling, a lot of these issues are pragmatic. How do we make it easy for small firms to play their role? On local authorities, obviously, small businesses are not allowed to take their waste to municipal sites. They are not eligible for municipal waste collections in the way that many domestic householders are, despite many of them not using many more different types of waste than those households. Again, that is in the spirit of making it as easy as possible for small firms to comply and play their role. That would be one element of it.
I want to follow up on the Minister’s question about a more collaborative, joined-up approach. Obviously, Andrew, local authorities will be your key partners, and you touched on small businesses and the challenges that they may face. Can you go into detail about your resourcing, and the support needed to deliver on the recycling targetsQ ?
Businesses do not have access to waste collection services provided by local authorities, which means that they have to arrange the collections themselves. That incurs a cost, but one thing that is often overlooked is the opportunity cost for small businesses; the issue is not so much the waste collection service itself. How do you identify a trustworthy waste collector? How do you know what they are doing with that waste? Do they provide all the different types of recycling that you need? Will that come at an additional cost? Do they collect on the right days, when you need it? All of those things that businesses need to think about could be made easier. Giving them access to more domestic-focused waste collection would be one way of looking at that for certain businesses below a certain threshold.
Another thing is pragmatism. If you are talking about a deposit and return scheme, for instance, with which many of our businesses will be involved, do they have the space to do it? Is there practically and pragmatically enough space? Those issues could easily be got over, but they need to be thought about. It comes back to the theme of what we can do, within the existing infrastructure, to make it easier for businesses to comply, even before we start to think about what new things are required. A lot of things could be done today to make it easier for businesses to recycle more, in particular.
Owing to the emphasis in the resources and waste strategy on domestic infrastructure and building facilities here, so that we can treat our waste and recycling within the UK, the industry estimates that there is a £10 billion business opportunity for investment in the UK, because there are gaps in regional infrastructure. It is important that we treat as much of both our recyclate and residual waste as possible in the UK. To be honest, some of the borders are closing in terms of waste being treated overseas in northern Europe. Obviously there is public demand for more plastic reprocessing in the UK, because that is best from an environmental point of view. That is really important.
Consistent collections will make things easier for households, because whatever part of the country you are in, you will essentially have the choice to recycle paper and card; plastic bottles; pots, tubs and trays, which at the moment many councils do not recycle; and steels and aluminium. There will also be separate glass and food waste. That will make it easier to recycle and easier, to be frank, to generate revenue from those materials, because they are collected separately. You can imagine that for the anaerobic digestion industry, separate food waste will be beneficial—or if it is food and green, that is used for in-vessel composting. There is a logic in that.
As for individual businesses, as my fellow witnesses will know, there will be mandatory collection of food waste above a certain limit. That is another good way to reduce carbon impact. In terms of the commercial collection schemes that we run, sometimes you can have economies of scale if you collect within a certain commercial trading estate and offer a service to all businesses within that estate. The obvious point, which really I should have made at the start, is that everyone thinks about municipal recycling and what everyone leaves outside their property, but business recycling is just as, if not more, important; there might be more waste involved. Anything we can do to simplify the system for businesses, so that it is less onerous and allows us to reduce our carbon impact quicker, has to be the right move.
I agree with Martin Curtois about the importance of developing the infrastructure in the UK. This goes back to the point I raised about the PRN crisis. It would be helpful to have an early signal from the Government about their export policy and the fact that we want to gradually reduce exports over time and build up the UK’s capacity to recycle materials. We should also look at how we can work together much more on quality standards for materials; ex-MRFs are another way to help the situation and develop more end markets. Those sorts of things should be looked at. Plus, of course, an early signal on our approach to collection consistency would be helpful. We do not necessarily need to wait until 2023. The earlier we can get signals from the Government about the direction of policy, the more it will help the market to invest, and it would provide certainty going forward.
We have talked a little bit about recycling this morning, but I am interested in the steps taken by the food and drink industry and the small business sector to reduce the use of plastics. From your perspective, what are the unintended consequences of reducing plastic use, and how will the Bill support you with those unintended consequencesQ ?
On reducing plastic use, there is a presumption there that plastic can be substituted by equivalent materials; that is the challenge. Obviously the industry is happy to look at alternative materials, but they must provide that equivalent functionality. Plastic is a very efficient material for getting products through the supply chain. The issue really is plastic waste, not plastic per se. An element of responsible disposal comes into this discussion as well.
We support the work of the UK plastics pact, which looks at not only phasing out non-essential plastic items, but how we can make plastic more recyclable, compostable or reusable, and generally reducing that waste. This is a combination of things, and looking at potential alternatives to plastic, where there are equivalent materials that provide equivalent functionality. We must not end up with unintended consequences, either for food safety or for food waste. It is about finding that sweet spot and functionality.
Also, we need to look at how we improve plastics as they are used now, perhaps moving towards alternative types of plastic and looking at how we can increase the recyclability of existing formats. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it has to be evaluated in the round, and we have to make sure we do not move to unintended consequences. Also, we need to keep focused on the fact that plastics per se are not the issue; it is plastic waste. It is about keeping plastics in the circular economy and out of the environment. The measures in the Bill to give producers full responsibility for the system, at full cost, will make it a lot easier to deliver change.
I back up what David said. On the unintended consequences, it is worth looking at associated opportunity costs. Presumably one of the unintended consequences relates to not putting businesses out of business. Coming back to the point about carrier bags, a cost was put on bags, and the business community as a whole welcomed that, but one issue was really hard to communicate, it seemed. It was not that businesses did not want to charge for the plastic, because they could manage that; they could swap and do alternatives. However, one unintended consequence, particularly for smaller retailers, was the reporting requirements on top. We need to look underneath the physical changes that the businesses have to make, and examine the bureaucracy that underpins those changes, such as any onerous reporting burden that is not balanced or proportionate. That is often quite hidden, but so often, the opportunity cost for businesses outweighs the up-front cost.
Most major brands have focus groups based on consumers—you and me—and there has been a significant change in how brands are responding to the issue of sustainability, because they understand that the public get it and want us to improve environmental performance. We can see that in supermarkets: we now have refill options, which are great ways to encourage reuse and reduce waste from the outset.
We have agreed on most things so far. However, from a reprocessor’s point of view, the great benefit that I see arising from a plastics tax that insists that products contain 30% recycled content is that it gives certainty to invest in more plastics reprocessing facilities. That will ultimately mean that the plastic is more sustainable at the outset, because you are using less virgin plastic and more recycled content. Before this Bill has even come on to the statute book, brands that always thought of sustainability as a nice-to-have—likely with a small financial incentive as well—now think of it as a must-have. That is significant and positive, because it will mean we are getting it right at the start of the process, which reduces the carbon impact.
It has even been shown through research that if the public are offered a water bottle with clearly labelled recycled content that costs £1.24, as opposed to a bottle without it that costs £1.20, they will pay the little bit extra to have a sustainable container. We have to make sure we exert the influence that the public want us to have when it comes to performing better in this area.
Q I will speak to two areas. First, when I engage with people in both the food and drink industry and the waste compressing industry, one issue is the lack of reprocessing facilities, but the second—and usually more important—issue is the quality of the bales of material. When they show me a bale from France and a bale from the UK, the French bales are much cleaner than the UK ones. Are the provisions in the Bill going to improve that so we can have better recycling?
Secondly, you alluded to the market in waste pushing up the cost of these bales, which is a disincentive to invest in reprocessing. Do you think that the provisions in this Bill will pull that back? As an adjunct, there is the issue of transfrontier shipments of waste—that is, waste being sold overseas. Again, do you think the provisions in this Bill will help us end that practice and engage in reprocessing in order to create a circular economy in the UK?
There are a couple of elements that we have to bear in mind. First, due to the changes in China and many other markets, the emphasis in those countries is on a race to the top. They are insisting on premium quality, and if we provide premium-quality bales it is much easier to have a market, so the way that has changed has actually been beneficial to some extent. Also, the overall value of these commodities has fallen, as with many others, so it is even more important that the product you are producing is of a premium quality. It is very important that we get that right at the start.
The Bill’s emphasis on encouraging more investment within the UK was one of the very clear signals that was outlined in the strategy. To give you an example, with plastic pots, tubs and trays, it is currently inconsistent. Part of that is that they are of little value as things currently stand, but if they were being collected separately under a formalised approach, it would be easier to generate value from them. That is the case with all elements of recycling. If you can collect clean product—this is why DRS may be advantageous as well—in sufficient quantity, it is easier to make a high-grade product for reprocessing.
There are a number of principles within the Bill that are pointing us in the right direction. From the sector as a whole, if the Bill becomes a reality and, as a result, we make it easier for the reprocessors to produce a good product, and if they have confirmation that the legislation is there and they are not investing in something that, 10 years down the line, will no longer be a Government priority, the money is there to go in. There is a benefit to the UK economy as a whole, because these facilities are needed throughout the UK. It is just where people are and where the waste is, so there can be a knock-on benefit nationally to the economy.
On the issue of quality, the powers in the Bill around EPR reform will help the situation. They will change the dynamic, in the sense that producers will be in the driving seat in terms of how payments are made to local authorities for collection. Those payments will only be handed over against agreed quality standards, so there will be a much bigger drive towards quality collections, which is what we need. Combined with the consistency approach, that will help the situation considerably.
We have also not mentioned the DRS, which will also help the quality of collections as far as particularly polyethylene terephthalate plastics in drinks bottles are concerned. That will also have a positive impact on quality. There is still an issue, as I suggested earlier, about the option of the industry working more with Government to develop quality standards and ex-MRF for bales and such. In many places on the continent, they have much higher standards for accepting materials, and we ought to be doing something similar here.
IQ am interested to see that the Bill provides a balance between the detail and the direction of travel. My question is to do with how much of a carrot or stick approach the industry needs from Government. The industry has come on in leaps and bounds in this direction in recent years, but in terms of consistent labelling and practices between different local authorities, how much of a stick or carrot approach do you think the industry needs from Government? Or is industry able to take charge on this?
Consistency of labelling could be one of the most significant changes in the right direction. At the moment you have this awful phrase, “widely recyclable”, and no one knows what it means. It could apply to one local authority and not to another. We would advocate literally a simplified traffic light system, whereby green is recyclable and red is not. I think the shock, for a retailer or producer, of having a red dot on its packaging would be such that it would want to avoid it. At a stroke, you would be improving recyclability straightaway.
That is one key element of it. It also drives people mad that they just do not know whether a product is recyclable or not, so you would get an improvement not only at the front end in terms of the manufacturers’ production, but in the materials we receive at the processing facilities. As you can imagine, we receive thousands of tonnes of materials a year. Anything that can be done to ensure that people are sorting it more efficiently at the outset will make our job of reprocessing it more straightforward.
For me and for small businesses, a lot of this legislation is generally about trust. The problem is that, if we do not get these things in place, everyone knows that the stick will come. There is an opportunity at the moment to be on the front foot. A lot of our engagement around the Bill has been about keeping businesses on the front foot and steering the legislation in a way that is beneficial to everyone. It is a case of giving all of these things a consistent approach, including labelling, for example. It is about trust in the outcomes of the legislation, and about making the right decisions. It is about trusting what they can see and seeing that the decisions are the right ones. It is important to have that transparency around the whole Bill.
Q Can I ask the FDF about food waste? It is mentioned peripherally in the Bill in terms of the separate collections and so on, but there is nothing more. There is a food strategy being worked on by Henry Dimbleby and others, which may have stuff in it. Is there scope for more specific provisions in the Bill? For example, Courtauld is still voluntary. Progress is being driven by the good guys rather than there being an obligation on everyone. You referred to the figures produced by WRAP. Could the Bill do more on that?
We have not identified any shortcomings to date. Obviously, there are voluntary approaches. You mentioned WRAP, and there is also the UK food waste reduction road map. Companies are signing up to that in increasing numbers and manufacturers are making good progress. We are expecting a consultation on food waste reporting from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs soon, and there is no need for primary powers in the Bill to do that. There was talk of the potential for powers on setting targets down the track. I am not sure where the Government are on that at the moment.
We have not identified any shortcomings as such. The inertia is there with the UK food waste reduction road map, and knowing that food waste reporting is going to come in as planned as a legal requirement in line with the road map.
Q Is that the mandatory food waste audits? When you refer to reporting, are some companies such as Tesco already doing audits of key items at least? Do you mean that at least the big companies report on the amount of food waste in their supply chain?
Yes. It is defined in the consultation, but certain companies of a certain size will be required to report their food waste. The idea is that they would do that in line with what they report under the road map, or what they do under Courtauld currently continues, so that there is no disconnect.
Making it mandatory would be a sign of failure potentially at a certain level, in the sense that we can encourage them to do it voluntarily. I come back to the idea of making it easy for people to do it. Once we get to the mandatory stage we would then be arguing about issues. We picked on the reporting requirements of things like that. If it was risk-based and proportionate, that would be the way to go. We would hope that businesses in particular would be doing this voluntarily, to begin with.
Q What often happens, though, is that some companies do it. There has been an issue in the past over things being reported in aggregate rather than identified specifically, and there has been no naming and shaming of individual supermarkets. Anecdotally, some supermarkets are clearly driving down those food waste figures while others are not doing their bit. That is always the problem with the voluntary approach.
It is quite important with those big producers that many of these requirements are not pushed down through the supply chain. If you are a small supplier supplying a big supermarket, one of the requirements is to deal with a proportionate and risk-based reporting mechanism. That has to be borne in mind if you are targeting big supermarkets such as Tesco. They have to report everything, and the burden is passed down through those that supply them as well.
MrQ Poole, you spoke a lot about trust and transparency, and the Bill has a careful balance between detail and direction, but a lot of details will be prescribed through secondary legislation. I just wanted to garner your opinions on the importance of public consultation, so that we can garner expert views to develop detailed policies through secondary legislation.
I come back to the point I keep making, which is that small businesses are signed up to this—in the broad concept. They want to do the right thing for the environment. They are human beings. What is increasingly important is that they want to demonstrate to their customers that they are doing the right thing. They are aligned with the broad concept of the Bill.
When it comes to those granular details, that is obviously what is going to make or break the Bill. Government must see small businesses as a partner for delivery at every stage where those decision have to be made. I suggest that the outcomes of this Bill will not be achieved without a fully engaged small business community playing a very active role in it. It is a plea to policy makers and legislators that small business views are taken into account fully when those decisions get made, at each stage.
Q Can I come back, Mr Curtois, to your earlier point that you thought there was masses in the Bill in terms of recycling, but less on residual waste and how that should be treated. What would you hope to see in the Bill that would cover that?
The situation in the UK in terms of residual waste is that it is virtually impossible to export refuse-derived fuel now in a viable way, because particularly in mainland Europe the cost of that is making it prohibitive. For obvious reasons, landfill is at the bottom of the waste hierarchy, and from what I can see from the resources and waste strategy the overall aim is to prevent waste where possible, recycle more and landfill next to nothing.
So we have got to recognise that even though recycling will hopefully continue to go up—ultimately I think the aim is to get, possibly, to 65%—there is something that has not yet really been covered in depth in the resources and waste strategy, which is that we need to do something with the residual waste. We operate 10 energy recovery facilities within the UK, three of which have district heating. Bearing in mind the plans that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has for a heat road map, which I think is proposed for June, there is a role, which we need at least to recognise, for energy recovery, preferably with heat decarbonisation.
We are addressing the issue that the waste has to go somewhere. The landfills are running out. Therefore we need to do something with it that will also help us with generating electricity, given the fact that there will be even more intense pressure on the grid because of the number of electric cars that we obviously hope for, to reduce our carbon impact. There should be at least some recognition that it is an important component of the overall mix.
Q Can I ask Mr Bellamy a separate question? It is really about your members and their attitudes to eliminating avoidable waste of all kinds. Do you think the introduction of charges for any single-use plastic item will incentivise a shift towards the direction that the Government want to go in, or do you think your members will resist that?
We support a binary labelling system to that effect. We have not looked at a traffic light scheme as such. The current proposal is more of a descriptor-based labelling system, which basically says that something can or cannot be recycled. We strongly support the concept of a binary system.
The truth is that some will, and some will not. We have tried to highlight, across the piece, in terms of these environmental challenges, the requirement to understand the business audience in more detail. Small businesses are very different. There are myriad different types of organisation. We consistently challenge policy makers on that requirement to understand in more detail the business audience that is being affected. If there are any requirements or opportunities to provide support to small businesses, that support should be targeted to those businesses that are least able to adapt. The more time that businesses are given to adapt and change the way they do things, the more likely they are to achieve those changes.
Q Thank you. I will be very quick. I want to return briefly to the issue of public consultation. How important will that be in determining the type of deposit return scheme that would be delivered by the Bill through the secondary legislation that it will bring in?
I believe that in Scotland, they are planning to go for an all-in deposit return scheme in April 2021. We will see how that works in practice. It seems that in Scotland they have decided that is the way they will go. It will be interesting—because they have proposed an all-in scheme rather than an on-the-go scheme—to see whether they can cope with the number of materials that will involve, as far as a DRS is concerned.
There was, perhaps, some merit to an on-the-go scheme. It would perhaps have had the advantage of primarily focusing on the plastic bottles and cans that are collected, which currently go into high street refuse bins and are virtually unsorted. We could go from 60% to 95% recycling of plastic bottles, if we have an on-the-go system that works and that focuses strictly on the bottles and the cans. It will be interesting to see what happens in Scotland and how that evolves. That will be the biggest and best test.
Absolutely. Coming back to recycling or the deposit return scheme, I think it is important to understand local issues. Locality-based solutions may be required. The solution in one area, for example, on a busy high street, will be different from that required for businesses in the middle of the countryside. The importance of consultations is to bring out the granularity of different options for the different types of businesses and different types of locations. As has been said on this panel, a one-size-fits-all approach will not necessarily work.
Just to say at the outset, we support a co-ordinated approach to DRS, introduced on a GB-wide basis, and based on best practice, particularly in the Nordic countries, where it has already been implemented for some time. We are, obviously, mindful of the potential impacts on local authorities. We fully understand why they might be sensitive to a DRS. We feel that there will be savings to be made for local authorities. There will be less material for them to collect, potentially, and less litter for them to deal with.
With the introduction of EPR reforms alongside the DRS, we think there will be opportunities to refine the service provision of local authorities and deal with any potential economic impacts in that way. We think that local authorities right now might be thinking about their contracts and whether they need to be reviewed in the light of the DRS coming along. We think it might be reasonable for the Government to consider some support for local authorities to help them do that at this stage. All in all, we support the DRS. We welcome a second consultation, which is important.