The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) announced its new plans for recycling in England at the end of October. Its reforms to the current waste system aim to improve recycling rates across households and businesses and protect the environment. They also look to clamp down on illegal waste carriers.
Many industries have welcomed the proposed changes, although a few have raised some concerns. It could also be a couple of years before any improvements happen, as the first stage of these plans doesn’t have to be in place until 31 March 2026 at the latest. Defra might be able to wait but the planet can’t.
Households and businesses can do their bit to reduce waste, improve recycling rates, and simplify their processes today. Learn more about Defra’s proposed changes to recycling in England and use these tips to make recycling easier at home or work.
What are Defra’s simpler recycling plans?
Defra’s ‘Simpler Recycling’ plans are a new set of proposals and changes to the current waste and recycling systems in England. This simpler recycling aims to standardise the process so people can recycle the same materials at home, work, school, or elsewhere. This should avoid the current confusion where certain items are recyclable in some areas of the country but not others.
The main changes and points from Defra’s simpler recycling proposals include:
- All local authorities in England will be required to collect these recyclable waste streams – food waste, glass recycling, garden waste, metal, plastic, paper, and card.
- Weekly collections of food waste for most UK households.
- Residual waste removals from homes at least once a fortnight.
- Waste collectors can collect dry recyclables together – to avoid excessive numbers of bins.
- Local authorities can charge for garden waste collections, as ‘the economic and environmental case is not strong enough to proceed’.
- Plastic film will be collected as part of the plastic waste stream by 31 March 2027.
- All these changes will apply to businesses – except for garden waste and plastic film.
- An overhaul of the existing record-keeping system for waste tracking with a central digital system to help better detect waste crime.
Who will Defra’s simpler recycling proposals affect?
The simpler recycling proposals are part of a large overhaul to the waste system to ensure the same materials are collected from homes, businesses, and other organisations across the UK. Therefore these plans will affect almost everyone, whether you’re recycling plastic bottles at home or getting rid of grass cuttings from a school playing field.
This is who and how Defra’s simpler recycling will impact:
- Households – all homes in England, including flats, will eventually have collections of food waste and the same recyclables.
- Businesses – companies that don’t already will have to recycle glass, metal, plastic (except plastic film), paper and card, and food waste.
- Other organisations – the new proposals will apply to other non-commercial facilities such as schools, universities, hospitals, and charities.
- Local authorities – all local authorities across the country must have plans and facilities in place to collect and recycle these waste materials from households in their area.
When do the new recycling plans come into force?
The main new recycling plans don’t come into force until the end of March 2026. There is some staggering of the introductions with dates for some proposals yet to be announced. Plus, there’s a chance that the proposed dates will change. The three key dates when these simpler recycling plans should be in place are by:
- 31 March 2025 – the required recyclable waste should be collected from businesses (excluding garden waste and plastic film).
- 31 March 2026 – local authorities must collect the required recyclable waste streams from homes (glass, metal, plastic, paper and card, food waste, and garden waste).
- 31 March 2027 – local authorities and waste collectors must collect plastic film as part of the plastic waste stream.
Will my home have seven bins?
No, you won’t have seven bins. Even though local authorities will collect seven waste materials under the ‘Simpler Recycling’ proposals, they can be commingled. This means most recyclable rubbish will be collected together (as is the case with most household recycling bins currently). It will be separate from general (residual) waste though.
How to make recycling
easier at home now
Recycling in England at home currently depends on where you live, the household recycling bins your local authority provides, and what materials they accept. Most councils provide bins for dry mixed recycling such as paper, cardboard, metal tins, and some plastics, but not all. Simpler Recycling aims to improve this.
Depending on where you live you could be waiting up to two and a half years before your local authority collects all these recyclable materials. Thankfully there are ways to reduce waste and improve household recycling anywhere in the UK already for these seven waste types:
- Food waste – compost any waste food if you’ve got outside space to build a compost pile. This is the natural process of recycling organic waste. Otherwise, make the most of leftover food items by using it in other recipes. For example, vegetable peelings can be used in various broths and even cakes.
- Glass recycling – some local authorities already collect glass as part of their household recycling services. For those that don’t most towns, cities, and villages have at least one bottle bank where you can recycle clean and dry glass bottles and jars of all shapes, sizes, and colours. These are normally in council, supermarket, and sports club car parks.
- Garden waste – composting is the natural way to recycle any garden waste at home. Some local authorities provide garden waste bins already (though charges may apply), which are taken to big composting sites anyway. Alternatively, see if a local allotment wants your garden waste for their compost piles.
- Metal – most households can recycle clean and dry aluminium drink cans and tin food cans in their domestic recycling bins. For larger bits of metal, you can arrange collection of scrap metal by licensed waste carriers or visit your local household waste recycling centre (HWRC).
- Plastic – check what’s accepted in your current recycling bin as you can recycle most plastic bottles in them anywhere in the country. For plastic bags, film, and other thin plastics you can take them to special recycling bins in various supermarkets. Here you can recycle the likes of plastic cereal packets, plastic bags, and film.
- Paper and card – pretty much every local authority accepts clean and dry waste paper and card in their household recycling bin collections. If you’ve got high volumes you can recycle them at a nearby HWRC. You might also be able to get a rebate if you’ve got lots of old newspapers. With the likes of shredded paper, you can add it to compost piles too.
Ways businesses can simplify recycling today
Businesses can also improve their recycling rates in England and make the processes easier now, rather than waiting a few more years. Increasing your recycling efforts helps the environment, demonstrates your sustainable credentials, and saves money on waste management costs. There are a few things your organisation can do to simplify recycling across your business:
- Review your waste management – assess and audit your current waste management setup to see if there are any issues or opportunities. Could you recycle some rubbish that’s currently thrown away with general waste? Consider adding extra bins to your collection service if so.
- Separate your recycling – use different bins to separate your waste by its materials. Have individual bins for any relevant glass recycling, paper, cardboard, plastics, metal, food waste, and garden waste that your business produces. This ensures as much as possible is recycled rather than all being sent to landfill or for incineration with general waste.
- Use the best bin sizes – combine the types of bins with the best sizes based on the volume of each waste stream you create. Use big bins for high volumes of cardboard and paper recycling that can be easily compressed. If you produce other waste types less frequently consider smaller bins.
- Arrange regular collections – daily collections are ideal for food waste especially, so it doesn’t start to smell and create unhygienic conditions. For big bins holding dry recyclables like paper and cardboard, you might only need removals on a weekly or fortnightly basis. The same is true for any waste materials you produce less often.
- Use a waste management firm – simplify your recycling by using a professional waste management company like Divert. We can provide a waste audit, deliver free bins, and arrange collections on a timescale that suits you. All waste is diverted away from landfill where possible, and sent for recycling, recovery, and responsible disposal.