UK Waste Policy
Change is a constant feature of UK waste policy. Since the publication in 2000 of the Waste Strategy for England and Wales, significant changes, largely driven by EU waste laws, have been made to how waste is produced and disposed of in the UK. Building on the gains of the 2000 policy and the subsequent 2007 Waste Strategy for England, Defra published in 2013 a new Waste Management Plan for England. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland also have equivalent waste strategies. (View links to Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish waste strategies).
This section provides a snap shot of the key features of current UK waste policies with specific focus on England and Wales. The coalition government is in the process of reviewing the policies.
- Waste Hierarchy
- The UK- wide policies on waste are built on a concept known as the waste hierarchy. The hierarchy focuses on prevention, preparing for reuse and recycling followed by other methods of recovery, for example energy recovery and lastly disposal. Prevention, preparing for reuse and recycling should be given priority order in any waste legislation and policy.
- Diversion of waste from the landfill
- Based on the waste hierarchy, a key objective of government policy is to reduce the level of waste going to landfill and to get people to recycle more. The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 and Landfill Allowance Scheme (Wales) impose new restriction on the type and amount of waste that can be disposed of in landfills in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland also have similar landfill regulations.
- Hazardous Waste Disposal
- New waste laws affect the way hazardous waste can be disposed of in England and Wales. (Scotland and Northern Ireland have equivalent regulations). Although it may still be possible for individual householders to dispose of a small quantity of hazardous waste in the normal waste collection, larger amounts would have to be disposed in specially managed waste facilities. It is no longer possible to dispose of hazardous liquid waste, batteries, whole and shredded tyres in landfills in the UK. The Environment Agency provides guidance on what to do if you produce, move, receive or dispose of hazardous waste.
- Increase recycling
- The objective is to get more households in the UK to do more recycling and composting of waste. Several measures have been put in place to encourage the general public to consider waste as a resource and adopt a recycle and reuse culture.
- Reduction of waste from the economy
- The amount of waste produced by industries and businesses around the UK is quite high. In England, for example, commercial waste amounted to a nearly a quarter of the total waste produced between 2002-03. The UK waste policy aims to reduce the amount of waste produced by the commercial sector.
- Different policy changes have been made to get businesses and industries to reduce waste. For instance, new laws on producer responsibility - the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 require businesses to recover and recycle a certain amount of packaging. Further, they are required to design their products in such a way that encourages easy dismantling and recycling at the end of the life cycle. Please note that producer responsibility laws also cover Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and End of Life Vehicles.
- Shared Responsibility
- UK waste policies operate on the basis of "shared responsibility." Everyone generates some amount of waste, so everyone has a part to play in preventing further waste growth. All parts of society also have a responsibility to reuse, recycle and dispose of waste properly.