The beginning of the year saw the introduction of the requirement for paper, metal, plastics and glass to be collected separately.
Applying to household waste, and also commercial and industrial waste, the regulations are intended to produce quality recyclates as long as it is technically, environmentally and economically practicable to collect the materials separately.
However, there has not been a great fanfare to the introduction of the regulations with no new mention of it on the Defra website.
While the Environment Agency launched a new page on its website on 19 December to explain the regulations, but then issued a briefing note to a select group of stakeholders on 22 December. This briefing note does not seem to have been made publically available on the Environment Agency website.
This briefing note said that waste collectors that do not have separate collection arrangements should review their collection practices and consider carefully if and how they comply to:
- Ensuring that waste undergoes recovery operations in accordance with Articles 4 and 13 of the Waste Framework Directive and to facilitate or improve recovery and
- It is technically, environmentally and economically practicable (TEEP).
Collectors that have concluded it is not necessary to operate separate collection arrangements should keep, and be able to provide for inspection, an audit trail which will help the Environment Agency to understand the basis of their decision making.
The Environment Agency said in the briefing note: “Records should be such that, if necessary, they could demonstrate compliance with the regulations in a court of law. Collectors should consult their lawyers to ensure they are compliant with this legislation.”
It also said that collectors are expected to ensure in all cases that customers can avoid putting paper, plastics, metal or glass in the same collection container as their general waste. In addition, they are expected to collect paper, plastic, metal and glass separately from each other subject to the two tests above.
The briefing note also highlighted that waste producers have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to apply the waste hierarchy in priority order and says that the Environment Agency “expects producers and collectors, and brokers where they are used, to work together to find the right collection system for them, that maximises recycling and complies with the law”.
Additionally, the Environment Agency said it will work with collectors to help them to comply by holding practical conversations or issuing advisory letters in the first instance. Enforcement action will be seen as a last resort.
360 Environmental director Phil Conran said he was “disappointed” with the briefing note as “the Environment Agency didn’t understand the impact of this on the industry until the last minute”.
He added: “It doesn’t clarify TEEP from a commercial waste point of view. The focus is still on commingled or source separated from a local authority perspective. It does not give guidance on whether a collector should offer separate collections [to businesses] if extra cost is involved and this is left to the interpretation of collectors.”
The Resource Association also issued a statement in December in which it welcomed the fact that the briefing note referenced its ReQIP quality specifications, but queried why the note said this was the requirement of “some” reprocessors.
Chief executive Ray Georgeson said: “In terms of the references to ‘high quality recycling’, we are grateful to the Environment Agency for the reference to the ReQIP quality specifications work that was conducted in 2014 and remains up to date. However, we note the briefing note now states that the information provided is on the ‘recyclate quality requirements of some reprocessors.
“We find the use of this word odd, as the ReQIP pages of our website clearly state that the information provided came from 36 individual companies and associations representing 12,917,800 tonnes of UK reprocessing capacity which is a significant and major element of UK reprocessing, not just some.
“We assert again that the ReQIP specifications information for this large group of UK reprocessors represents a clear determination of what constitutes ‘high quality recycling’, noting that the Agency rightly reference Article 11(1) of the Waste Framework Directive stating that collections should ‘meet the necessary quality standards for the relevant recycling sectors’. If nearly 13 million tonnes of dry recyclable and organic reprocessing capacity doesn’t constitute the relevant recycling sectors, then it would be interesting to understand what does.”