Plans for new national standards on domestic-waste collections will be “challenging” to enforce and place “needlessly rigid” burdens on councils, MPs have warned.
Members of parliament’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee praised the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs-led Waste Strategy for its ambition but said its vision for domestic-waste collection and recycling could require up to £20bn of new infrastructure and rob councils of local flexibility.
They also said that their inquiry into the proposals had raised questions about the extent to which Defra had worked with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in drawing up the strategy.
The strategy, launched late last year while Michael Gove was environment secretary, proposed a range of measures to boost recycling and improve the way domestic waste is handled. Key goals included sending no food waste to landfill by 2030; a 65% recycling rate by 2035; and achieving “zero avoidable waste” by 2050.
Among them were proposals for all homes to have between four and six bins for collection – adding up to three new recycling bins in addition to those for residual waste, garden waste and food waste.
However the select committee said it was unlikely that local authorities – who manage bin collection – would want to ask households to store up six separate bins outside or inside their homes, particularly in urban areas.
MPs said a balance needed to be struck between requiring local authorities to improve recycling and waste management, and the ability of councils to decide the most effective way of achieving the goal.
They added that enforcing rules on aspects including the frequency of collections, or which services should or should not be charged for, denied councils flexibility to react to local conditions.
MPs also said that existing recycling infrastructure was inadequate to meet the strategy’s ambitious targets and significant investment and up to £20bn could be needed to rectify the situation. They called on the government to provide more detail on how it expected councils’ work to be funded.
Committee chair Clive Betts said the government had taken the wrong approach to hitting its targets for improved recycling rates and reducing society’s impact on the environment.
“In determining how often waste should be collected, the number of recycling bins or what services should be charged for, the government appears to have forgotten that what works in rural areas may not be suitable for cities,” he said.
“Local authorities understand what the challenges are in their areas and should be given the freedom to tailor their approach to meet them.
“Equally, the government must ensure that the funding is there that will allow local authorities to rise to the challenge. It will require significant investment to improve recycling infrastructure, and ongoing waste management costs arising from the government’s proposals will be higher.
“The government has indicated it will provide more funding, but they must demonstrate that this will be adequate in the long-term. Local authorities are already struggling, they cannot be expected to shoulder further burden without extra resourcing.”
The committee’s report said the District Councils Network – which represents lower-tier authorities in county-council areas, who are responsible for bin collection – claimed MHCLG had been “blindsided” by the details of Defra’s strategy when it was published.
However it noted that Gove had dubbed the suggestion an “unfair characterisation”, and insisted that detailed discussions between the two departments had taken place, particularly with regard to the new burdens process.
A government response to the report said its Waste Strategy was aimed at going “further and faster” to reduce waste and promote recycling – at the same time as ending confusion for householders over discrepancies between local arrangements.
“Our reforms will ensure a consistent set of materials are collected from households for recycling, and that the costs of handling packaging waste are handled more fairly by ensuring businesses and manufacturers pay the full net cost of collecting, recycling or where necessary disposing of packaging that ends up in household waste,” a spokesperson said.