Following a judicial review, the Regulations state that waste collection authorities (and others which collect waste paper, metals, plastic and/or glass) must do so by way of separate collection. This requirement applies where separate collection is:

  1. necessary to ensure that waste undergoes recovery operations in accordance with Articles 4 and 13 of the Waste Framework Directive, and to facilitate or improve recovery (the “necessity test”); and
  2. technically, environmentally and economically practicable (the “TEEP test”).

Waste collection authorities are left to consider for themselves what does and does not satisfy these tests – in particular what constitutes “TEEP”. The Environment Agency takes a relatively “risk-based” approach to regulation in this field. There is no statutory guidance available to help waste collection authorities to determine what, in their circumstances, TEEP might mean.

In the absence of any statutory guidance, waste collection authorities demonstrate a wide variety of approaches to what “separate” collection might be, from “comingled” collection of the different streams of recyclates together (but separate from general waste) – not generally considered compliant with the Regulations but acceptable where to do otherwise wouldn’t be TEEP – through to separation of each waste stream at source (i.e. by individual residents before they put waste out for collection), with two-stream collection lying somewhere between the two. This inconsistency across the country leaves residents baffled by collections (“there are too many bins and bags” being a stereotype) and unsure of what can and can’t be recycled. It also risks breaching the Regulations in some cases. The European Commission’s Environmental Committee is currently debating clarifying the Waste Framework Directive further to remove the TEEP test entirely, and so the message from Europe appears to be that separate collection means, well, separate collection.

Against this backdrop and following extensive research, WRAP launched A Framework for Greater Consistency in Household Recycling in England in September 2016. WRAP’s research identified that consistency is vital to improved recycling rates across the country –all households should be able to recycle the same core set of materials, which would lead to improved understanding, higher rates of recycling and reduced contamination in the materials that are collected and recycled. This means having fewer different collection and sorting systems across the country and a common system of containers.

WRAP suggest just three different systems of collection:

  • “multi-stream” with separate food: plastic metals and cartons are put in one box, glass and card in another, paper in a third (all of these are then sorted at the kerbside) and then food waste is collected separately;
  • “two-stream” with separate food: plastic, metals, cartons and glass are collected in one box, paper and card in another, and then food waste is collected separately;
  • “co-mingled” with separate food: plastics, metals, cartons, glass, card and paper are all collected in one box, food in another. WRAP comment that this last option is considered to be the most at risk of not satisfying the Regulations.

It’s worth highlighting a few things for the waste collection authority to note: the first is that all three of these options include separate food waste collection. This is the “easy win” to increase recycling rates.  The second is that, when it comes to the “two-stream” approach, the important recyclate to collect separately is paper.  If the paper can be collected separately from the card, then so much the better.  This results in the lowest rates of contamination between recyclates.

And then third, aside from the environmental impact, the important point here is a commercial and financial one:  streams of recyclable material are generally worth more if they are kept separate from each other.  The research behind the Framework indicates that money can be saved through separate collection – something which runs contrary to some authorities’ argument that separate collection is too expensive (and so not “TEEP”).  This is because the different waste streams are sold on to waste reprocessors, who will pay more for less contaminated waste.

WRAP has now committed to supporting six groups of local authorities to evaluate the local business case for adopting the consistency framework and is dedicating £1m from existing funding from Defra to provide this support.

Further information

For more information, please contact Gayle Monk or Cynyr Rhys.