The Green Future: 25 year government plan

As you may have seen last week, Theresa May has announced her plans for the ‘Green Future’ of the UK – a 25-year plan by the government to significantly cut pollution and ease the pressure on the environment.

The 151-page document details the measures that need to be taken to preserve the natural landscapes and habitats of the UK, all with the common goal of creating a greener country for all of us.

There is a heavy focus on avoidable plastic waste with a goal of working towards eliminating all avoidable waste by 2050 and avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. It reports that over the next 25 years, being more ‘resource efficient’ will not only ease the pressure on the environment and our natural resources but also reduce costs and boost productivity.

They are ambitious targets and in order to achieve these objectives, a new national Resource & Waste Strategy will be developed in 2018. This will set out how the UK can maximise the value of resources during their product life cycle and in turn:

  • Reduce waste
  • Promote markets for secondary materials
  • Incentivise producers to design better products
  • Improve how the UK manages materials at the end of their life cycle

In particular, reusing and recycling plastic will be critical to the government achieving their objectives as well as lowering the reliance on fossil fuels to produce virgin materials. A four-point plan has been devised to act at each stage of the product life cycle – production, consumption and end of life. The plan will work towards the goal of eliminating all avoidable plastic waste during the next 25 years, including seeking views on how the tax system or charges could reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste.

The four-point product life cycle actions are:

  1. Production stage – Encourage producers to take more responsibility for the environmental impact of their products and rationalise the number of different types of plastic in use.
  2. Consumption stage – Reduce the amount of plastic in circulation through reducing demand for single-use plastic.
  3. End-of-use stage – We will make it easier for people to recycle.
  4. End-of-life/waste management stage – Improve the rate of recycling.

While most of the actions listed in the report require further discussion and planning, the 5p plastic bag charge that was introduced in October 2015 has reduced plastic bag usage by 85%. This will be expanded to include businesses with less than 250 employees that are currently exempt.

Food Waste
Reducing food supply chain emissions and waste understandably form a key part of the government’s plan, with the primary aim to cut the greenhouse gas intensity of food and drinks consumed in the UK by a fifth by 2025. This will help work towards an even more ambitious target by the United Nations (UN) to halve per capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030.
The hope is that this can be achieved through The Courtauld Commitment 2025, a voluntary agreement involving organisations along the agri-food supply chain from producer to consumer. Part of the agreement is rolling out guidelines on applying ‘Use By’ dates only when there is a food safety reason to do so.
Recycling food waste is another key priority which comes with an ambitious target; that no food will enter landfill by 2030.

Residual Waste
The process of diverting residual waste away from landfill to energy from waste (EfW) facilities has improved and 2016/17 saw 38% of waste collected by Local Authorities going to EfW compared to 16% that went to landfill. However, things can still improve and the residual waste stream can maximise their full value by utilising the heat as well as electricity produced and keep carbon dioxide emissions as low as possible.

This plan has been eagerly awaited by the waste and resource industry, there has been little guidance from the government regarding waste and recycling for many years. It’s an exciting time for our industry and it will be interesting to see if the government’s ambitious plan can be fulfilled over the next 25 years. We will follow the progress and updates of this plan closely.