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UK moves to keep EU waste and recycling targets post-Brexit

Government promises to enshrine target to achieve 65 per cent recycling rate by 2035 in UK law as it publishes new Circular Economy Plan

The government has confirmed a number of key EU recycling targets are to be maintained in the UK once the Brexit transition preriod comes to an end, as it today published a fresh circular economy plan that will put into law a goal to recycle 65 per cent of municipal waste by 2035.

The announcement comes around a fortnight the UK missed the official deadline for transferring the EU’s Circular Economy Package – including a raft of statutory recycling targets – into UK legislation, a move that caused concern among some green groups.

However, the new UK Circular Economy Package unveiled today enshrines a number of the EU’s headline ambitions into UK law, namely for for municipal waste to be reduced by 65 per cent by 2035, and a commitment to ensure that no more than 10 per cent of municipal waste ends up in landfill by the same date.

The recycling policy package, which is set to become law later this year, restricts the materials which can be landfilled or incinerated, and mandates that waste separately collected for recycling from households cannot be burned for energy or buried.

The UK has struggled to boost its recycling rate recent years, particularly in England. Having plateaued at around 45 per cent for several years across the UK, last year the figure even dropped slightly, rendering the EU’s legal target to achieve a 50 per cent recycling rate by the end of 2020 a near impossible task.

Launching the new Circular Economy Package today, Environment minister Rebecca Pow said increasing recycling rates and reducing the amount of waste going to landfill would create a “cleaner waste economy” while also helping to deliver much needed CO2 reductions.

“Through our landmark Environment Bill we will be bringing forward a raft of measures to do just that, and this new Circular Economy Package takes us yet another step forward to transforming our waste industry,” she said.

Other measures targeted at driving up recycling and reducing waste in the government’s Environment Bill include plans for a tax on businesses that produce or import plastic packaging that has less than 30 per cent recycled content, and a deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers that would boost recycling rates.

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at environmental think tank Green Alliance, applauded the government’s decision to maintain the 65 per cent ambition.

“Its great news that the government has listened to our call to enshrine the ambitious 65 per cent recycling target into UK law,” she said. “This suggests a resolve not to let the EU pull ahead from us on environmental ambitions. Now we need the right policies to follow through and deliver the reqiured improvements.”

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institution of Waste Management said it was “pleased to see the joint statement issued today by the four UK governments”.  It added: “While the devil is always in the detail, and CIWM will be scrutinising the list of transposition measures proposed, it is reassuring to see that the UK will remain aligned with an important package of measures that will shape resources and waste policy across Europe for years to come.”

In related news, meanwhile, the government also revealed today that plastic carrier bag sales have dropped more than 95 per cent in England’s main supermarkets since 2015 when the 5p charge was introduced.

The average person in England now buys juts four bags a year from the main supermarket retailers, the government said, compared with 10 last year and 140 in 2014.

While the 5p charge currently applies to all retailers employing more than 250 people, the government has consulted on extending this to all businesses as well as increasing the minimum charge to 10p. A formal response to that consultation will be delivered “in due course”, the government said today.

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