Defra outlines Simpler Recycling and how every household and business will have same materials collected

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Defra has outlined some of the detail of its Simpler Recycling programme as well as a crackdown on illegal waste operators.

Under Simpler Recycling, every household and business will eventually have the same materials collected.

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From March 2025, business will have the core material of metals, glass, paper and card and plastics packaging collected for recycling.

Then from March 2026, this will also apply to local authorities collecting from households, apart from where there are long-term contractual arrangements. Garden and food waste will also be collected separately, as well as residual waste.

This also means that local authorities will be able to commingle all core materials if they wish, or those that have different containers to separate paper and cardboard for example will be able to continue to do so.

From March 2027, plastic films will also need to be collected, but it is yet to be determined whether this will be separately or within the recycling container.

According to Defra, this means that packaging manufacturers will be able to design packaging knowing that it can be recycled across the nation.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Our ambitious plans will help every household, business, school and hospital in the country to recycle more. We have listened to councils and come up with a system that will increase recycling in a way that does not clutter our pavements with numerous bins and smelly food waste collections for weeks, making recycling simpler and more effective.

“This will help us to make the most of our finite and precious resources, while reducing carbon emissions and protecting our precious environment from harmful waste.”

Defra has also launched a crackdown on illegal waste operators. There will be increased background checks on firms who move or trade waste materials. Defra also reiterated that it will shortly be bringing about digital waste tracking from the point a waste is produced to the point it is disposed of.

The Recycling Association chief executive Paul Sanderson said: “Simpler Recycling should end the confusion around what can and can’t be recycled and we welcome the focus on the dry core materials of paper and card, plastics, metals and glass packaging.

“But it is disappointing that local authorities in England will be able to commingle this material, as we would have preferred paper and cardboard to be kept separate as a minimum. That would have avoided contamination and enabled better quality of paper and cardboard, but also the other materials where paper can act as a contaminant. 

“The fact that Simpler Recycling will also apply across households and businesses will make it easier for people, whether at work or at home, to understand what can and can’t be recycled. That is a definite positive from Simpler Recycling.

“We would have preferred commercial and household collections under Simpler Recycling to be launched at the same time in 2025 but recognise that a great deal of progress has been made to bring about consistent recycling under these measures. At least now, our industry can start to plan with some certainty.

“On plastic film collections from 2027, we will need to see the detail as it will be essential that these are kept separate from the other core materials.

“We are also pleased that there will be more effort to crack down on rogue operators. Those who move waste illegally bring our entire industry down and it is in all of our interests to remove the criminal element.”

Further reaction

Gavin Graveson, senior executive vice president Northern Europe Zone, Veolia:

“Today’s simpler recycling announcement is a welcome step forward to improve the quantity and quality of material that we process. We now need to quicken the pace of UK recycling rates by ensuring that packaging is designed to be reused, repaired or recycled.

“There is still an urgent need for waste reforms, policy visibility, and investment. We strongly suggest that the Government consider escalating the plastic packaging tax to a minimum 50% recycled content to stimulate the market without creating a burden for the taxpayer and focus Extended Producer Responsibility on hard to recycle materials such as laminates and composite materials. We need stability in the recycling market to underpin investments so we can stimulate the green economy, create jobs and bring us closer to our net zero goals.

“We welcome measures to further address waste crime in our industry and we strongly support enforcers having more power and resources to bring these criminals to justice.

Overall, this is a £1 billion illegal industry, but tackled properly, every pound spent on stopping waste crime brings an immediate return on investment.”

Lee Marshall, policy & external affairs director, CIWM:

We have been waiting for this announcement for what feels like an age, so it is great that we now have the details. The flexibility around collection systems appears to be a sensible way forward and I am sure local authorities will be pleased with that approach. 

“The deadlines for implementation, especially for film, remain challenging given the delays we have had, and there will be concern about procurement bottlenecks that these relatively short deadlines may cause. 

“The proposal to restrict residual frequency to a maximum of fortnightly is, however, unwelcome, as there are numerous examples of how this helps increase recycling and makes collections more cost effective.”