How will the government reach it’s recycling targets?

As global temperatures rise and oceans fill with waste, people increasingly value how much attention government’s give to being environmentally friendly. In some regards, the Conservative government in the UK is far ahead of most. The EU is also seen as one of the leading institutions of its size in terms of its approach to climate change and waste reduction.

What are the aims?

In the short term, the EU members including the UK have a set target of recycling 50% of household waste by 2020. With 4 months to go, Wales is the only area that has managed to reach this unambitious level.

In 2018, an EU package came into effect that set similar targets for the long term. This included recycling 70% of packaging by 2030, as well recycling two-thirds of urban waste and cutting the amount of waste going to landfill to 10% by 2035.

By some measures, Britain is already a world-leader in terms of fighting climate change. Greenhouse emissions have been cut at a rate far above average over the last couple of decades and regulations placed on the consumption of a select few plastic products have been met with praise.

These achievements are impressive in relative terms, but if looked at absolutely, are far from enough.

How is the UK planning on doing better?

To meet the longer-term targets that have been set, far more must be done. Recently the Conservative party has initiated a plan that aims to improve the impact on local levels. Prescriptions have been assigned country-wide that include requirements for frequency of food residual collections, the number of necessary recycling bins and more. Plans to build and improve infrastructure to increase recycling capacities have also been announced.

Although these moves look promising on paper, councils have expressed concern on their implementation and expectations. Firstly, the one-size-fits-all approach does not leave room for areas to adjust as necessary and is only really an efficient tactic when based on the false assumption that all councils are dealing with the exact same problems. The centralised approach does not allow for the flexibility necessary to ensure each council is taking the environmental steps that suits their situation best. The funding necessary to improve the aforementioned infrastructure is also a point of concern for councils. Scepticism remains over the source over these funds and there is a fear that working people will bear the brunt of the expense. Considering the Conservative party’s reluctance on using taxation to pump the profits of companies back into the system and the rampant cutting of council funds over the last few years, the uncertainty over who will be expected to take the financial hit is an understandable one. In a letter to the Minister for Local Government by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee some of these concerns were expressed. Approval to scrutinise the funding data has been requested and the inflexible plans were described as “the wrong approach for achieving these objectives”. Regular reviews to ensure that funding doesn’t dry up or come from unsuitable sources has also been deemed crucial.

One indicator of the lack of attention given to the situation is that there still remains an umbrella position for the issue. Although having an Environmental Minister is a step in the right direction, the gravity of the situation calls for a greater breakdown of the role into various sectors in order to allow increased focus given to each matter, such as recycling or carbon emissions.

The previously implemented council cuts have made for tough adjustment. The privatisation of services and irresponsibly government-distributed contracts has already strained relationships with those employed to serve the council. The worsening working conditions in Birmingham for example forced waste collectors to strike and still the area’s bin situation remains disastrous. Years of austerity will make returning to previous standards a tough task and so aims of reaching environmental excellence may prove even tougher.

Considering the necessity of relentless growth under capitalism, the EU’s targets are made harder by the inevitable continued rise in production and distribution of goods. For example, the number of parcels sent annually in the UK is expected to rise from almost 2 billion to an astonishing 3 billion in the next decade.

Are changes likely to bring an improvement?

Although worry remains about the UK’s release from the EU’s environmental expectations with Brexit on the horizon, the government has pledged to not drop the agreed aims. Although the Conservatives are notorious for placing society’s financial responsibilities on the shoulders of the poor, movements such as Extinction Rebellion and various council’s increased vocalism offer hope that those who hold the majority of the country’s wealth can be influenced to take a bigger chunk of the weight.

Expecting growth to be deliberately restrained is likely to be too high an expectation but if the UK is to form a government that can give profit a smaller role in the list of society’s priorities, adjustments to start reducing the damage that’s been caused to the environment may become more feasible.


Lionel Eddy is a freelance writer living in London.