Simpler Recycling plans may be a missed opportunity to maximise recycling

Latest Defra update is welcomed and criticised

The latest Defra update to the Simpler Recycling initiative has had a mixed reception, welcomed and criticised. On the upside, the update provides clarity and sets out deadlines, as well as further pushing for extended producer responsibility (EPR) and improved recycling labelling. However, on the downside, plans for collection of non-recyclable residual waste, and mixed dry recyclables have provoked some negative responses.

Key dates, EPR and recycling labelling

Key dates have been confirmed, with the need for new recycling practices for businesses to be in place by March 2025. Households will follow a year later with new rules, including weekly food waste collections, starting in 2026.

As part of extended producer responsibility (EPR), producers will be required to label packaging to state whether it is recyclable or not. This is intended to help reduce confusion and support the simpler recycling measures to ensure the correct materials are collected. In general, Defra’s update bring Simpler Recycling a step nearer, giving certainty that the policy is moving forward with clear deadlines for its introduction.

Capping residual waste collection at fortnightly is a mistake

The update has also confirmed plans for standardising recycling collections, mandating councils to collect non-cyclable residual waste, fortnightly at most. The new policy requires households to use at least three bins for dry recycling, organic waste, and residual waste. Local authorities are permitted to allow mixing of food and garden waste if desired.

However, Defra has come in for heavy, angry criticism for setting the cap on residual waste collection at every two weeks. This ignores evidence that shows there is an increase in recycling rates resulting from longer periods between residual waste collections, typically 3 weekly.

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and local authorities argued for a three-weekly collection option, however, the government remains firm on the fortnightly cap.

CIWM criticism of the fortnightly cap suggested it limits recycling rates. Thinking along the same lines, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Group and the District Councils’ Network highlighted financial and logistical challenges, with the potential for service cuts due to increased costs and tight timelines.

Strong statistically backed evidence

One prime example, where good evidence strongly suggests a two week residual waste collection cap may be a mistake, is Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT), in the Welsh valleys.

A report by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, the governing body for RCT, said around 100 tonnes less refuse is being put out for collection on average each week after the council brought in three weekly collections. This equated to a recycling rate increase of almost 5% since the start of Q2/2023-24, and the council continued to exceed the current Welsh Government recycling target of 64%.

Another area that has been met with a less than satisfactory reception is allowing the mixing of dry recyclable waste. A statement from Phil Fenton, director of packaging, at the Confederation of Paper Industries calls on Defra to urgently reconsider its approach. It said not collecting paper and card separately, and allowing commingled collections creates ‘confused recycling’ and overlooks that the quality of material collected is critical.

Defra’s own data shows this decision is a backwards step, with contamination rates for paper and card in mixed collections at 15.5% and 12%, compared with only 1.1% and 4%, respectively, for separate collections.

John Scanlon, chief executive officer for Suez Recycling and Recovery UK said, “Given a number of councils have successfully pioneered three weekly residual collection services, a requirement for councils to provide minimum fortnightly residual waste collections feels like a backward step. Evidence shows that reducing residual collection frequency encourages people to use the food and recycling collection services provided by their local council more consistently.”

Modify collections: 20 months for households and 10 months for businesses

Councils were allocated £295m by the Government in March to deal with the costs of weekly food waste collections. Sam Chapman-Allen, chair of the District Councils’ Network (DCN), said this failed to provide adequate funding and that typical investment of nearly £1m in new waste vehicles would be required by each district council to cope with the additional collections.

He said: “It is unacceptable that we are expected to overhaul our waste collection systems for households within a mere 20 months, and those for businesses within 10 months.” DCN also said 98% of councils implementing new weekly food waste collections will need to buy or upgrade vehicles, at an average of £950,000, but this could be considerably higher where councils share resources and services.

A partnership of Suffolk districts faces a shortfall of £2.13m to meet its vehicle requirements. The cost of meeting the need for larger depots to accommodate new vehicles was put at an average of £1.5m per council.

Get ready for Simpler Recycling with Whitespace

The massive spike in demand for such specialised kit as waste collection vehicles is likely to result in increased costs and delays to the rollout of Simpler Recycling. However, it’s not just about new vehicles and larger depots. Reorganisation of collection rounds is a major undertaking.

Whitespace possesses exemplary expertise and experience of consulting, designing and implementing technology, working with the waste management industry and local authorities to provide highly efficient municipal services.

Whether it is back-end fleet management, in-cab systems to help crews deliver more efficient collection and cleansing, or better engagement and communications through the Whitespace Resident App, our solutions enable highly efficient, joined up and responsive waste collection services.

Leveraging a council’s current investment in technology through utilising existing collection round data, Whitespace Municipal Waste Management Software simplifies collection round reorganisation. This includes mapping to optimise route planning, reducing fuel consumption and costs for diesel vehicles, or to take into account range limits of EVs.

Whitespace partners with over 100 local authorities to help deliver efficient high quality environmental services. To find out more about Whitespace Municipal Waste Management solutions, please get in touch by calling us on +44 (0)1483 231 650 or emailing us at

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