UK recycling legislation proposals for 2023: The future of commercial food waste

recycling legislation
© Rafael Ben Ari |

Grant Keenan, Managing Director of Keenan Recycling, examines Scotland’s implementation of tighter food waste recycling legislation and what it will mean for the similar incoming UK government legislation

It’s no secret that sustainability has become more of a priority for businesses, their stakeholders and the public at large in the last five years that it ever was before. On an individual level this means recycling our household waste and making ethical consumer choices but when it comes to boardrooms there are more onerous considerations when it comes to managing waste.

Currently, businesses in the UK are only required to ensure food waste is hygienically disposed of, ensuring no cross-contamination with fresh food preparation, with no stipulation that it must be recycled. This Is set to change with the possible implementation of stricter legislation in 2023 which will introduce mandatory separate food waste collections, with a targeted 75% recycling rate by 2030.

How did Scotland do it?

A similar legislation change was recently implemented in Scotland as part of the Scottish government’s plan to promote a circular economy for waste which treats waste as a resource that can be reused or recycled endlessly. Since 2016 all Scottish businesses that produce more than 5kg of food waste have a legal obligation to have all food waste and spoiled items collected for separate recycling by a registered waste carrier service.

Since then, feedback for the changes to Scottish businesses has been positive. It was found that companies’ buying habits changed due to the regulations, with most beginning to buy according more to what they needed with a drive to reduce food waste as much as possible.

In addition, it also cut down on general waste being sent to landfill which promotes the fight against climate change. In early 2016, Zero Waste Scotland revealed that the amount of food waste treated at Scottish anaerobic digestion plants had increased by as much as 15,000 tonnes in the first few months of the regulations taking effect and has continued to rise since then.

What is planned for UK businesses?

While all businesses operating in the UK have a legal duty to correctly and sustainably deal with their waste, the UK government’s waste policy has largely focused on household waste. Current legislation charges organisations with preventing waste, re-using and recycling where possible, with disposal as a last resort.

While the government currently levies environmental taxes on businesses in order to encourage them to operate in a more environmentally friendly way, there are several exemptions based on the size and nature of the business which make these measures far from universal across England.

A public consultation was held in 2019 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on proposed changes to waste management legislation that found that the majority of respondents were in favour of weekly separated food waste collection.

The UK government has since confirmed that the new legislation will introduce a clear set of recyclable materials for both household and commercial waste, including the separation of dry and organic waste collections.

In a policy statement in July 2019 DEFRA stated they will: “legislate to modernise the government’s powers to set producer responsibility obligations, extending them to prevention and redistribution of waste, so that we can tackle the moral scandal that is food waste.”

It is likely that companies producing over a set threshold of food waste will be required to recycle it, similar to the legislation currently in place in Scotland and that fines will be served to those who don’t comply.

Why does this matter?

It is important that businesses are prepared for the incoming legislation as non-compliance could land heavy fines and cause PR headaches. Businesses could also face scrutiny from consumers if they are not seen to be doing enough to minimize their impact on the environment whilst prioritising CSR and sustainability as part of daily operations.

Although the legislation has not yet been implemented it is a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ and it is far better for businesses to be seen to be ahead of the game and prepared for the new legal requirement than to wait for the inevitable and risk non-compliance.


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