The Environment Act has mandated for local authorities to offer kerbside household food waste collections, but no firm deadline is yet in place. With Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) reform set to be implemented from October 2025, the government have signalled that the Environment Act commitment on mandatory collections for unavoidable food waste will not come into force until that time.

EPR will require packaging producers to fund waste management costs for the materials they place on market, providing councils with new income streams. This funding mechanism is intended to provide financial support to transform waste and recycling services, including the rollout of local authority food waste collections where not currently provided.

Whilst mandatory food waste collections will still bring logistical and financial challenges whenever implemented, it moves England closer to a consistent recycling model and is needed to push up stagnating recycling rates. Done thoughtfully, it also promises environmental and economic gains.

With timelines not yet confirmed, local authorities have an opportunity to make preparations and align new food waste services with the wider recycling landscape post-EPR implementation.

The Changing Funding Landscape for Food Waste Collections

With EPR shifting packaging cost obligations onto producers, council recycling budgets stand to benefit. Whilst questions remain around how EPR will be implemented, this policy change will provide a degree of funding required for new food waste services. To assist local authorities in meeting targets, DEFRA has also put forward a proposed funding approach. This looks to address the significant upfront and operational costs involved in food waste collection service roll out.

The first funding tranche focuses on initial capital expenditures like collection vehicles and caddies which can act as barriers to implementation. DEFRA has also indicated further support for launch and implementation costs as schemes go live. Ongoing revenue funding is also promised once kerbside household food wate collections are fully operational. This aims to help local authorities manage the long-term cost pressures of running new recycling services.

However, while funding has been committed in principle, uncertainties remain around how levels will be set. DEFRA has stated that funding allocations will be made based on their own cost estimates rather than the actual expenditures required in specific council areas. Additionally, DEFRA has not yet indicated when the tranches of funding will be made available to authorities, presenting a further planning uncertainty.

With limited visibility of the assumptions behind these DEFRA calculations, local authorities may struggle to accurately determine if funding will fully cover rollout costs. More transparency from central government could enable councils to budget and plan more effectively. Questions remain for those authorities that already have a food waste collection service, with no definite position around revenue funding support.

Developing Tailored Local Food Waste Collection Strategies in the Lead-Up to EPR

While the prospect of DEFRA funding offers a starting point, councils will likely need to develop strategies tailored to their local contexts to meet targets.

Effective plans will require councils to audit existing infrastructure and contracts to identify gaps that must be addressed. New collection and/or treatment partnerships may need establishing where current arrangements do not include food recycling.

Public engagement around separation and using new food caddies will also be vital to maximise capture. Communication campaigns explaining the benefits, new collections process, and how to participate will encourage resident buy-in.

Councils can also explore technologies such as anaerobic digestion to optimise food waste treatment, energy generation and organic fertiliser production. Other partnerships with community groups and private entities may help maximise resources.

In rural areas, costs of new collection vehicles and logistics around adding another recyclable stream may be more challenging. Solutions integrating food waste into existing collections could improve efficiency.

Urban councils may face different barriers around storage space for new containers in multi-occupancy properties. Targeted engagement with tenants and landlords can help identify workable options.

No one-size-fits-all approach exists. But by utilising local data, needs assessments and community input, councils can develop strategic plans tailored for their area.

“With the role of local authorities becoming increasingly important in delivering waste treatment solutions that contribute to Central Government’s net zero ambitions, it is paramount that further clarity is provided on the consistency in collections. Time is required to prepare outline business cases that inform future waste collection, management and treatment strategies, whilst simultaneously taking account of the need for a robust governance and approval process to take place prior to service rollout.”

James Hay, Senior Consultant at WRM

Meeting Environmental and Social Objectives

Food waste collections provide environmental benefits beyond just landfill diversion, by avoiding greenhouse gas emissions and assisting in the generation of biogas-derived renewable energies.  Capturing these valuable resources also moves England closer to a circular economy model.

But well-designed strategies can deliver social value too, for example through:

  • Providing job opportunities in green waste management;
  • Supporting community composting schemes with diverted food waste;
  • Using local treatment facilities to keep benefits within communities;
  • Empowering and educating residents to reduce household food waste.

To fully realise this combined potential, community perspectives should help shape strategy. Though time is short, authorities need thorough preparation not just for compliance, but to meet wider waste ambitions.

The Countdown to Food Waste Collection Continues

With no definitive timeline yet set, local authorities have an opportunity to properly prepare for food waste collection irrespective of the EPR outcomes. Careful planning and community engagement will enable councils to roll out compliant, value-driven food waste services when the Environment Act requirements come into force.

While questions remain around details of mandatory targets and funding, authorities that prepare now can smoothly transition to capture this important recyclable stream in the years ahead. The countdown to food waste collection continues, but thorough preparations today promise a clear path towards efficient and well performing services tomorrow.

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