Simplified recycling: what are the new rules?

read time: 5 mins

The Government intends to make recycling simpler by introducing exemptions, to the EU derived standard, enabling local authorities in England to collect three waste streams. In addition, the Government will require the same materials to be consistently collected within each waste stream. 

The mandatory recyclability labelling on packaging, as part of extended producer responsibility, will also help support simplified recycling. It is estimated that local authorities will collectively receive payments of £900 million per annum as extended producer responsibility packaging payments.   

In this article, we take a look at the Government's consultation response on consistency in household and business recycling. We will cover the proposed three waste streams, the new duties on local authorities, deadlines for implementation and next steps for local authorities and waste management companies.

What are the proposed waste streams? 

The Government is proposing exemptions to allow the collection of three waste streams - dry, food and residual waste. There will also be statutory guidance on what materials may be included with the three waste streams: 

  • Dry recycling waste stream: glass, metal, plastic (including cartons for food drink and other liquids), plastic film packaging and plastic bags made of mono-PE, mono-PP and mixed polyolefins PE and PP, paper and card (subject to exceptions such as glitter and foil). A pilot project, FPF FlexCollect for flexible plastic kerbside collections, will help support Government  policies on waste collection and address evidence gaps.
  • Food recycling waste stream: all food intended for human or household pet consumption and biodegradable material resulting from the processing or preparation of food. Further evidence is required before publishing guidance on caddy liner use.
  • Residual (non-recyclable) waste stream: no residual waste materials are listed in the Government’s consultation response, however, it is likely to be the materials that don’t fit within the recycling waste streams.

The consultation response flags that “recyclable waste stream descriptions may be worded differently in regulations” and the Secretary of State may add to the list of recyclable materials in the future. The Government is proposing that the dry and food recycling materials will be the same for household and non-household municipal collections.

What about recycling garden waste?

Garden waste will include all organic material from the garden except ash, full-sized trees, invasive weeds/species, soil turf cuttings and waste products of animal origin. The Government is consulting on providing an exemption to allow food and garden waste to be collected together in one bin.

What are the new duties on local authorities? 

All local authorities in England must:

  • collect the recyclable waste streams, as outlined above, for recycling or composting from households; 
  • arrange a weekly collection of food waste from households, unless a transitional arrangement applies; 
  • collect residual (non-recyclable) waste at least fortnightly, “if not more frequently”. Fortnightly collection is a minimum standard and provides a backstop, not a recommendation; and
  • collect garden waste where requested by households. 

The deadline for implementation of these duties is 31 March 2026. This deadline applies except for the collection of plastic film, for which the deadline is 31 March 2027, and the collection of food waste where transitional arrangements apply.

In respect of food waste, there may be exceptional circumstances in which specific local authorities need transitional arrangements. This is due to long-term waste disposal contracts, mechanical biological treatment and energy from waste, that run beyond 31 March 2026. Following engagement with local authorities this year, local authorities who require a transitional arrangement will be listed in the regulations, along with the date by which they are required to provide a weekly food waste collection.  

The Government will provide local authorities with reasonable new burdens funding, to provide weekly food waste collection from households. Funding will include capital costs, resource and ongoing service costs. Any local authority that does not request a transitional arrangement, and is subject to variation or contract break costs, must meet those costs itself.

The Government’s preference is for food waste to be collected for treatment by anaerobic digestion (AD), introducing the Green Gas Support Scheme to support the construction of new AD facilities. The Government does not intend to require AD plants treating food waste to include a composting phase.

What are the new duties on non-household municipal premises?  

All non-household municipal premises, such as businesses, schools and hospitals, must arrange:

  • to have the recyclable waste streams, with the exception of garden waste, collected for recycling or composting. The deadline for dry recyclables is 31 March 2025, except the collection of plastic film for which the deadline is 31 March 2027;
  • the separate collection of food waste by 31 March 2025, but non-household premises are not required to have weekly collections. 

The Government proposes to further consider options for reducing the cost of compliance for non-household municipal premises.

The deadline for implementation by micro firms (i.e. those with fewer than 10 full time employees per enterprise) will be 31 March 2027 for dry recyclables, plastic film and food waste.

What are the next steps? 

The exemptions to enable the collection of three waste streams, the frequency of residual waste collections and statutory guidance will be confirmed after the Government has carried a further consultation. The Government will also be consulting on: 

  • expanding the list of relevant non-domestic premises that will need to comply with simpler recycling; and
  • additional information that waste collectors will need to record in the digital waste tracking service.

Local authorities and waste management companies will need to undertake an audit of their current waste collection contracts. This is to establish if contracts provide exclusivity for the collection of all waste, any rights to recover lost revenue and whether waste contracts need to be varied to accommodate the new simplified recycling rules. If any variations are “substantial modifications”, then the local authorities will need to comply with the public procurement regime. 

Where transitional arrangements are required for the collection of food waste and transitional arrangements have not already been requested, local authorities should contact Defra as soon as possible.

Ashfords advises both public and private sectors on waste management and procurement matters. If you have any queries or would like further information, please contact Brian Farrell and Jonathan Croley.

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