Onwards & Sideways - the Simpler Recycling details

At this point any policy clarity in England is welcome! After the announcement last month introducing ‘Simpler Recycling’ the one change we knew was coming was that there would be a rapid retreat from the previous preference for materials separation at home. Multi-stream collections have no longer a nailed on pre-requisite of our options appraisal work. The guidance is brief, but is available here. So what does this mean for Council recycling services?

In short, there is a much weaker policy driver for source separation. Those Councils that currently comingle recycling collections will most likely retain them, those considering alternatives will be less likely to consider multi-stream. TEEP, TEPSEB and other awkward acronyms designed to assess the suitability and quality of different collection systems are (to use our Prime Ministers terminology) scrapped. The driver for quality, outside of the recyclate revenue / gate fees incurred, will now sit with the payments under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), and the assessment of ‘efficient and effective’ collections – of which we still know little.

Then we look at organics. Weekly separate food waste collections were already a requirement, but now there is an exemption for comingled organics (food and garden mixed together). This system generally leads to lower levels of food waste capture, but is successfully operated in parts of the Country already (Greater Manchester, parts of Shropshire, Warwickshire, etc.), typically using In-vessel composting systems. A collection challenge here is that food waste is to be collected on a weekly frequency whereas garden waste is better in a wheeled bin, which makes sense to collect on a fortnightly basis. If a fortnightly garden waste collection turns into a weekly organics collection, there would be a more marginal carbon case for the collection (than a separate food waste collection to Anaerobic Digestion, which generally has a good carbon case), this is aside from the cost implications. Food waste collections will be required by March 2026, but those Councils that have a long term disposal contract that might incur notable costs from changes to input waste (as a result of new food waste collections) will have bespoke derogations from implementation. This includes both EfW and MBT based contracts, this could affect quite a lot of the Country, depending on its interpretation.

The decision to continue to allow charging for garden waste collections, will be a relief to many who have systems in place, and is a consideration with regards to a comingled organics collection (you can charge for garden waste but are prohibited from charging for food waste collection). We would expect a greater uptake of charged garden waste collections to help support service costs.

Lastly there is residual waste, previously enigmatic on the subject, Defra have stated that there is an ‘expectation’ that households will receive at least a fortnightly collection of residual waste, with a swipe at less frequent collections in parts of Wales and England. This remains a challenging position where Councils budgets are constrained and where the systems have been shown to work in practice.

There will be major winners and losers from Simpler Recycling – the compartmentalized recycling vehicle and collection box market will take a hit as might, to an extent, the wet Anaerobic Digestion market. It is a boost for wheeled bins and MRF equipment suppliers – I imagine there will be a lot of interest in the Sherbourne Recycling MRF – under commissioning now and designed to maximise quality from a single stream recycling model. This will be more challenging as plastic film and cartons form part of the common recyclate mix.

The positives are that we have some clarity to help frame Council services moving forward, flexibility to meet local circumstances and the funding to help deliver this will be provided to a ‘reasonable’ level through a combination of new burdens funding and EPR monies (due October 2025). All households will have the same recyclables (and food, noting the exemptions above) collected by March 2026, businesses will have the recyclables collected by March 2025. Plastic film will follow in 2027 by both. Having a more firm commitment or reiteration on these things is welcome.

The policy has shifted, but as regards environmental progress in collections systems it feels more like the status quo plus the extra materials to achieve the aforementioned consistency…. onwards and sideways.

Frith Resource Management model collection alternatives and develop strategies for waste collection and disposal authorities. For more information see www.frithrm.com or call 01746 552423 for a chat.