Is there a law to determine how much a council has to recycle?

Filed in Blog by on July 9, 2009 9 Comments
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Council directives, legislation and regulations to reduce landfill waste

Council directives, legislation and regulations to reduce landfill waste

Over on Twitter I was asked a question about council recycling targets.

@MichaelIWaring asked “Is there a legally-mandated (from Westminster) percentage of waste that local councils MUST recycle?”

What a great question; and one which had me scratching my head.  My instinct told me there was no legal requirement and that it was probably only guidelines; but I wasn’t sure.

What better person to call than Marsha Llewellyn, the Environmental promotions officer at our local council?

Here’s what she had to say. Bear in mind she will be talking about Gloucestershire, but why not call your council and find out what they do?

National waste strategy

All EU member states are required to produce a national waste strategy describing their waste disposal and recovery services.

There is a separate strategy for each country within the UK.

England’s national waste strategy (2007) outlines key targets, including higher (than those previously set) national targets for recycling and composting, these being as follows:

  • 40% by 2010
  • 45% by 2015
  • 50% by 2020

The 2007 strategy can be accessed in full by visiting Defra’s waste strategy.

Local Area Agreement

In addition to the targets set nationally we have those set by the Gloucestershire Local Area Agreement (LAA).

The LAA is an agreement between the government and a partnership of local public and voluntary organisations, led by Gloucestershire County Council through the Gloucestershire Conference.

It sets a range of improvement targets aimed to help partners concentrate on working to achieve their top priorities and to make a real difference for local people.  Currently our local targets for recycling and composting are:

  • 40% by 2009/10
  • 50% by 2014/15
  • 60% by 2019/20

Details about LAA targets can be found on the Gloucestershire council website.

Regulations, directives and decisions

In terms of legal responsibilities, there is a wealth of regulations, directives and decisions by which local authorities have a duty to adhere to.

Depending on the role of the authority (and its contractors) i.e. whether they are a WDA (Waste Disposal Authority) or a WCA (Waste Collection Authority), the individual acts and directives will be more or less significant as the different legislation covers a host of issues including: the collection, handling and disposal of waste, environmental protection, pollution, emissions, landfill and so on.

Key European legislation includes:

  • The Landfill Directive (1999)
  • Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive (2002)
  • EU Regulation on Animal By-Products (2002)

UK legislation

Key UK legislation:

  • Environmental Protection Act (1990)
  • Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act (1989)
  • Environment Act (1995)
  • Waste Minimisation Act (1998)
  • Waste & Emissions Trading (WET) Act (2003)
  • Household Waste Recycling Act 2003 which requires that English Waste Collection Authorities to collect at least two recyclable materials from household separate from residual waste by 2010.

(Note that EU regulations apply directly to all member states while EU directives set out the aims to be achieved and are then translated into national law within a set timeframe (i.e. key issues highlighted in the EU Landfill Directive have been translated into the Waste & Emissions Act.

Through this local authorities have been set increasing targets to divert biodegradable waste (accounting for 68% of all waste) from landfill between now and 2020.

Landfill leachate

The main driver being that biodegradable material when sent to landfill produces leachate, which pollutes watercourses and produces methane, which is a major contributor to climate change.  Through the WET Act, government will impose progressively tighter restrictions on the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfill).

Some of the world’s biggest mobile phone manufacturers have agreed to adopt a new universal standard of phone charger in an effort to be more environmentally friendly.

Phew! No wonder things are more complicated than they seem – I have enough trouble deciding which brand of product to buy!

My thanks go to Marsha for taking time to answer the question so fully and to Michael for asking.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (9)

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  1. Mrs G – this is a great example of interested residents and councils working hand in hand, a model that I would love to see repeated across the country. I am just relieved that increasing number of councils are beginning to do more than separate just two recyclable items. As you say, it is a tricky business though and the conversations I overheard at the mixed plastics conference the other week revealed the impact that regulations have at local level. It really is a challenge of logistics, technological developments and behavioural change, never mind the economics of it all. I’m truly am glad I’m just a consumer.

    Anyway, do you fancy a break from the recycling bin and join me in a tag over at my place? Even though it normally takes me ages to get around to such things…if ever…I really enjoyed taking the time out from the big issues. 😀 xxx

  2. John Costigane says:

    HI Mrs Green,

    These targets are all very fine, but do not add up to very much today. Instead of promoting best practice, where some councils achieve 60% recycling, the idea is to await initiatives (PFI?) of various kinds. This is a recipe for inaction despite good developments, like AD and PRFs.

    The truth is the best approach for Zero Waste enthusiasts is simply to deal with their own situation and promote waste reduction in all its aspects eg, plastic packaging avoidance, grow your own, local shopping (including farmers markets) and campaigns of all kinds to press the message home. Community efforts, like Mrs A’s Recycle Week, and even some type of business activity are 2 further steps we should promote.

  3. Layla says:

    Interesting question & great to read about it all!! 🙂

    In Slovenia, there are similar general ‘directives’ and such – thing is TAKE A LOOK AT INDIVIDUAL REQUIREMENTS!!
    I was shocked to see a target of only 22,5% plastic to be recycled (into plastics!) till the end of 2012!!

    the overall goal of 60% packaging sounded nice (included WtE ‘energy’ though!!), while 55% minimum & 80% maximum (why is there a maximum??!!) waste packaging are to be recycled, at least 60% for glass, 60% for paper & carton, 50% for metals (??) & 15% for wood (?), plastics as above.

    Here it’s different in individual councils too, depending on who they send the recyclables to. I wonder, is there anyone helping councils & individual packaging/recyclables recipients to market & sell/pass on the recyclables? (One such company here says they were collecting tetrapaks but couldn’t find a buyer then so a whole truck ended up.. guess where??!! so they don’t collect them anymore.. – & previously, when local waste management companies were selling the recyclables themselves, there was a similar situation often too!! if they couldn’t find a buyer..) Soo… /sigh/
    I feel even more confused then ever 🙂 lol.. (& they are probably too.. :))

    John, which types of business activity did you have in mind?

  4. John Costigane says:

    @Layla: @Layla: Hi Layla, Businesses which promote Zero Waste like Unpackaged, London, can be expanded since there is just 1 shop for the whole UK. The business idea is worth investigating since this would be a new way to counter current bad practice.

    Another idea, mentioned elsewhere, is to step in where council facilities are incomplete and offer to run a collection, eg food waste. A post on zerowastevancouver shows Steve McLeod collecting food and other green waste for a council, which supplies bags/buckets to householders, for weekly collection. The idea is to run something which moves the situation forward. I might approach my own council to test the water, having often contacted them about recycling defficiencies locally. The point is that this can be tried in any part of the country lacking proper recycling.

  5. Mrs Green says:

    @Almost Mrs Average: Hi Mrs A; our council was very helpful with sharing this information, and the new recycling officer seems very passionate about her job.
    I played tag with you this morning; not that impressed with the questions though!

    @John Costigane: John, I agree with all you have written; but we really need some of the ‘big boys’ behind us. I’m feeling a sense of urgency as the Javelin Park method of dealing with waste looms closer without much transparency it would seem.
    We are only a handfull of households taking the zero waste approach and I find our story ignored time and time again in the local paper – do they not really want a solution?? I’m starting to get cynical and I feel that they don’t really want a solution from a householder, they just want to roll in the incinerators.

    There, I’ve said it….

    @Layla: A maximum figure for recycling; now there’s a new one on me LOL!

  6. Layla says:

    John, VERY interesting idea!! 🙂

    Do report how it goes!!

    I found that locally, local waste companies are VERY interested in reducing garbage, cause it costs a lot (100 EUR a ton) to burn it in incinerator!!
    so if they can give anything (recyclables etc) away for free, they are VERY interested!!

    trouble is, the bigger cities with incinerators to be built are interested in – incinerators!! cause it’s a ‘business opportunity’!! & of course there is always a % of money that ends up in pockets of those cities/their officials!!

    Mrs G, of course the ‘big boys’ aren’t interested in small-household solutions!! – no % of money in their pockets there!! so the small households & small councils & FoE etc have to *force* better solutions, & like John said, actively look for & promote better ways!!
    has there been a grassroots campaign door-to-door & such?

  7. John Costigane says:

    @Mrs Green: Hi Mrs Green, There are bound to be some incinerators built, with the collusion of government and certain councils. This should not deter the public from making their opposition known. After all, we did not vote for EfW so there is a democratic deficit in the process.

    MyZeroWaste is not the proper forum for such a local campaign as this is best done at community level. We can certainly promote Zero Waste as a better alternative generally.

    The LGA today asked supermarkets to provide details of packaging volumes used in their stores. This is a positive step which could improve the situation. That kind of development will promote waste reduction, so far avoided by supermarkets. My view is that all aspects of Zero Waste should be promoted, including alternatives to incineration.

  8. carole says:

    Hi all, sorry I’ve not been around for a few days, been very busy winding up to end of term…however, I did take a few minutes to phone my local council with two gripes.

    First, they hadn’t delivered any recycling bags to our flats for ages and ages. Normally, because we’re communal, they drop off several rolls of each type on the ground floor and we help ourselves. Nada, nothing, zilch and zero in the way of bags for ages. Ok, they’ve been changing over from seven district councils to One Cornwall (urgh). Anyway, whatever.

    I had some glass to recycle. I had no plastic bags in the house, (being of the “no plastic bags from supermarkets” persuasion, I didn’t have so much as one carrier bag anywhere). I’d just bought a nice linen “interview suit” from Tesco (I know, I know) but they packed it in a nice large brown sturdy paper carrier bag, so I thought I could put my wine bot…er jars etc in that! So I did. Next thing it’s had a ticket put on it which says glass must be packed in plastic bags.

    I phoned them and said “You haven’t dropped off any council recycling bags, we’re encouraged not to have bags at the supermarket; would you have me BUY plastic bags to put my recycling in?” Why don’t you provide cornstarch bags for glass, or give households something to put their recycling out in that is earth friendly?” The council lady sort of shut up then, and promised me some bags IN THE POST.

    Just thought I’d get that gripe off my chest.

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @carole: Hi Carole, good to see you. I was missing you but guessed this was a very busy time for you at school.
    Well done on complaining; like you say, what are you supposed to do if they don’t provide the promised bags. Well done; the silence by the lady at the council would indicate she knew the council were in the wrong 😉
    Hope you get the bags delivered soon 🙂

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