Report claims recycling reforms are stalled by government delays and lack of clarity

Uncertainty is stopping businesses and local authorities from preparing for the changes needed to meet UK waste recycling ambitions, according to a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report.


The report, published on December 1, 2023, expresses concerns about a lack of certainty in the government’s delayed collections and packaging reforms programme and its long-term waste planning.

The report warns that without clarification, a resulting lack of investment will stop the government reaching its ambitions for reducing the environmental and economic costs of waste.

PAC said that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) waste reforms are reliant on businesses and consumers changing their behaviour by producing less and recycling more.

Despite this, the PAC’s report finds businesses and local authorities are ‘unable to prepare’ for the required changes due to a ‘lack of clarity on what form the reforms will take and the impact on council funding.’ 

The report claims that without clarification, local councils cannot invest and improve their recycling services and must delay procurement. Insufficient facilities to deal with the increased volumes of recycling coming from reforms could mean more plastics will be incinerated, taken to landfill, or exported to other countries than before.

PAC said Defra must also provide clarity to support its longer-term waste policies, namely how the waste system as a whole needs to change, including the waste infrastructure capacity it expects will be needed for UK ambitions.

PAC said that without the published requirements, timeline for implementation and funding confirmation, businesses and councils cannot use this time to make the necessary investments in their services.

While simpler recycling is expected to increase recycling rates to 52 – 60 per cent by 2035, the PAC warns that without contributions from other projects, Defra will not reach its 2035 target to recycle 65 per cent of all municipal waste. 

Defra has suggested that the delayed implementation of the first step of the reforms programme to 2025 is partially to allow councils time to prepare, but two years on from the closure of Defra’s consultation on simpler recycling, no requirements have been published.

In a statement, Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Committee, said: “Changing how we deal with waste is crucial to save the environment from further damage and meet the legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050. 

“It’s vital that the government encourages a circular economy where products can be used again or for longer. Without a clearly communicated vision from government on how these crucial reforms will actually work in practice, it's unlikely that these targets are reachable,” she added.

“With businesses and local authorities crying out for information, the government needs to provide certainty as soon as possible to make sure the necessary investments and procurement can take place.”