Government departments will be asked to consider the environmental implications of major procurements, as part of an increased focus on providing greater social value through procurement processes.
A long-awaited resources and waste strategy for England published by the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs said that sustainability will be part of a “strategic and robust approach” to procurement with social value at its core.
“More sustainable government procurement can help to generate less waste, and also increase demand for more resource-efficient goods and services and stimulate innovation,” the strategy said.
Plans to make social value a metric in assessments of contractors for government work were announced by Cabinet Office minister David Lidington in July, in an bid to rebuild public confidence following the collapse of the outsourcing giant Carillion.
At the time, Lidington said the government wanted to see “public services delivered with values at their heart, where the wider social benefits matter and are recognised”.
The new procurement rules, which will come into force next year, will help to sustain UN Development Goal 12, to improve the sustainability of consumption and production patterns, the waste and resources strategy said.
To support the rule change, the civil service will train its 4,000 commercial buyers on how to take account of social value and procure from social enterprises, it said.
The strategy aims to dramatically reduce the amount of waste going into landfill through driving up recycling and developing novel ways to use waste materials.
The government will aim to standardise household recycling across England by producing a nationally agreed list of packaging materials for recycling and minimum service standards. It will meanwhile introduce mandatory labelling to tell consumers whether packaging can be recycled.
It will also introduce weekly nationwide food waste collection, subject to consultation, and appoint a food waste champion early next year to raise awareness of the issue.
Other key commitments include making companies pay the full cost of recycling or otherwise disposing of packaging they produce – up from 10% now – and introducing a deposit return scheme for drinks containers.
The strategy has also reiterated previous commitments outlined in the 25-year environment plan, including a pledge to remove single-use plastics from the central government estate by 2020.
There are early indications that the drive to reduce government-sanctioned single-use plastics in Whitehall departments are having an impact. Last month the Foreign Office reported it had cut the use of plastic cutlery, coffee cups and other single-use plastics by 97%.
'No need to wait that long'
The strategy has been broadly welcomed by industry bodies and environment campaigners. A spokesperson for the National Infrastructure Commission said it was in line with public support for tackling waste, adding: “We now want to see ministers consult and act quickly, matching the public’s appetite for change, and increase recycling rates to support our efforts to tackle climate change."
However, the timelines it sets out have attracted criticism. The nationwide roll-out of the deposit return scheme, extended producer responsibility for packaging, and legislation for mandatory separate food collections are not set to be introduced until 2023. All are subject to consultation.
Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said plans to make companies pay for the waste they produce was “really encouraging”, but added: “However, these proposals only enter law in 2023 – after five more years of a truckload of plastic entering our oceans every minute. There’s no need for the government to wait that long to ban excessive and non-recyclable plastics.”
Friends of the Earth’s waste campaigner, Julian Kirby, said the strategy placed “too much reliance on voluntary measures”.
“This strategy also gives little recognition to the vital importance of cutting the production of plastic in the first place. Recycling has a role to play – but at the end of the day it will only slow the rate of increase in plastic pollution,” he added.
In a recent interview with CSW, Defra’s top scientist Ian Boyd said pushing waste up the policy agenda was one of his proudest achievements in the department. He began work on a report that has been used to inform the waste and resources strategy when waste was a “deeply politically uninteresting topic” to ministers, he said.
Launching the strategy in London yesterday, environment secretary Michael Gove said it would secure the UK’s status as a “world leader in resource efficiency, leaving our environment in a better state than we inherited it”.
“Together we can move away from being a ‘throw-away’ society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource,” he said.
“We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste.”