DRS machine Sainsbury's

Source: Sainsbury’s

The effectiveness of the governments deposit return scheme is uncertain, according to the NAO report

The government has no effective long-term plans to reduce waste that contributes to climate change, according to a damning report from the National Audit Office.

More than four years on from publishing a strategy to build a circular economy in England, in which products are used multiple times, government long-term plans to deliver on it “do not yet exist”, according to the independent public spending watchdog.

A lack of sufficient planning by Defra was making it difficult for businesses to prepare for environmental regulatory changes, the report said.

It said some progress had been made in establishing Extended Producer Responsibility – which will require companies to cover the cost of recycling the packaging they produce – along with plans for a deposit return scheme and consistent waste collections.

But it warned Defra’s failure to set up necessary collection and packaging reforms meant it was at risk of not delivering on the plans to its own timetable.

It also said the effectiveness of the DRS was uncertain, with Defra having no current plans to trial the scheme, which is due to come into force by 2025 following a series of delays.

The report highlights stalling household recycling rates in England since 2011-12, along with government’s failure to deliver on an EU-derived 2020 target for the UK to recycle 50% of household waste.

The government was also at risk of not meeting the obligations it set for itself in its 2018 strategy – called ‘Our Waste, Our Resources: A strategy for England’ – around reducing waste sent to landfills and incineration, the National Audit Office said.

“Reducing waste is critical to reducing emissions and achieving some of government’s wider environmental goals, but Defra does not have effective long-term plans for how it will achieve its ambitions for reducing waste, and there has been delay to its implementation of reforms,” said NAO head Gareth Davies.

“Defra must now establish a clear and coherent plan for its work on waste and resources, addressing the weaknesses in the reforms already in progress. If Defra takes these steps, it will be in a much stronger position to achieve its ambitions.”

A Defra spokesman said: “We are pushing ahead with our programme of reforms to reduce waste and improve our use of resources – building on our commitments clearly set out in our Environment Improvement Plan earlier this year. This includes introducing a deposit return scheme for plastic and metal drinks containers from October 2025, implementing consistent recycling between different councils to boost recycling rates and banning the supply of single-use plastics like plastic plates and cutlery from October 2023.

“We have been working closely with industry, environmental organisations and local government as these initiatives are rolled out and will provide more updates on our long-term plans shortly.

“We have carefully considered the recommendations of the report and they will inform our approach as we continue to deliver on our environmental ambitions.”