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Biffa calls on the government with policy asks to reach ‘waste net zero’

Leading sustainable waste management company Biffa has launched a groundbreaking report — 'From Waste Hierarchy to Carbon Hierarchy: Biffa’s Blueprint for Waste Net Zero’.

Biffa urges the government to go further to significantly boost the circular economy (where waste is continually recovered, recycled and regenerated in a closed loop). Net zero for the waste sector is the goal – and it is achievable.

There is a once in a generation opportunity to unlock an £18 billion investment in the UK circular economy. The report sets out policy asks that would create more than 16,000 high quality jobs, generate 43 million tonnes of circular raw materials and reduce UK carbon emissions by over seven million tonnes annually.

Biffa embraces shifting from a ‘waste’ hierarchy’ to a ‘carbon hierarchy’ with the following stages: ‘collect’, ‘reduce’, ‘recycle’, ‘recovery’ and – as a last resort – ‘dispose’ via landfill. Waste must move up the hierarchy to improve environmental outcomes and save businesses money.

The report presents three to five potential carbon benefits at each stage, supported by the policy asks and changes needed to realise these. Download it here.



Provision of separate food waste collections for businesses is lacking – and retail, manufacturing and hospitality businesses generate 2.9 million tonnes of it annually. This leads to contaminated recyclables when waste could be re-distributed as surplus to communities or used to generate energy via anaerobic digestion.


Collect food waste separately.

Biffa urges the government to enforce legislation whereby separation at disposal becomes the social norm, incurring lower contamination rates and more sustainable management of food waste.



Too much produce that could be re-distributed, repaired or repurposed is wasted unnecessarily. Food is a common culprit, accounting for eight to 10% of total greenhouse gases given low awareness around sustainable solutions like redistribution via Company Shop Group.


Enchanced food waste reporting.

Given food waste’s contribution to carbon emissions, reporting would provide a clear view of the potential market for food redistribution plus hold producers of excess food waste to account. Just one tonne of redistributed surplus food would save 0.989 tonnes of CO2e.



Too much plastic is exported abroad for recycling, increasing emissions. The government has committed to stopping plastic exports but investment to build the infrastructure to handle waste domestically is vital to reach the packaging recycling rate goal of 70% by weight by 2030. Businesses can get ahead by evaluating materials used in packaging produced or consumed (like opting for paper mbased solutions).


End plastic waste export.

One tonne of recycled plastic saves 2.3 tonnes of CO2e compared to Energy From Waste (EFW). Ending plastic waste export will mean more recycled materials within the British supply chain and 13,000 permanent jobs in recycling facilities.



Energy recovery is a lower carbon alternative to landfill for waste that can’t be reduced or recycled, but the need for additional facilities to process this waste is slowing.


Link ERF inclusion in ETS with a reform of landfill tax reform.

If at least 90% of waste is diverted from landfill (where energy recovery plays a role alongside reuse and recycling), 3.8 million tonnes of Co2e is saveable. Biffa calls on government departments to collaborate on a landfill tax reform, connecting legislative changes with carbon based decisions on waste destinations. Landfill for non recyclable plastic may be a better outcome than energy recovery (until packaging re-design is impactful).



No waste that could be reused, recycled, or recovered should go to landfill long term. It plays a little known role in the carbon hierarchy for complex and inactive waste. Once landfill sites are full, they are capped and restored for the likes of nature conservation.


Reform landfill tax.

This will ensure that current taxes don’t work against net zero ambitions. It could mean that materials like low grade plastic are sequestered in landfill until improved recycling solutions emerge.

Fortunately, the UK’s waste sector has transformed from a landfill dependent model to one prioritising recycling and energy recovery, rendering it a stand out contributor to carbon reduction.

In the report, Michael Topham, Biffa’s chief executive officer, said: ‘Nonetheless, whilst this transition is to be celebrated, the task is nowhere near complete. The UK still produces too much waste and doesn’t recycle enough of it.

‘After nearly two decades of success, recycling levels in the UK have plateaued at around 44%. Too many materials are not designed for recyclability, and collections systems are often inconsistent and unclear. And where we do recycle, we remain too dependent on export markets as an end destination for materials.’

He says the transformation can be achieved using ‘existing, proven technologies and processes, and that there is a vibrant, competitive, skilled sector with the access to the capital to make this happen’.

He added, ‘Society supports this drive and the UK’s governments are committed to implementing policies to help make this happen. All that is needed now is for sensible policies that provide long term certainty to be implemented without delay.

‘At Biffa we have the skills, capital, and ambition to play a leading role in delivering this vision for a net zero, circular economy.’

Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association, said: ‘ESA members, including Biffa, have played a key role in delivering the vital jobs and infrastructure that have moved the UK away from a landfill dependent society to one where half of everything we throw away is recycled – saving vast quantities of carbon emissions in the process.

‘But the job is far from done and our members stand poised to invest billions more to help the UK reach its ambitious recycling and net zero targets, provided that the UK policy and regulatory landscape supports and protects this next generation of circular economy investment.’

For further information on the current situation at each stage of the carbon hierarchy and all the policy asks, download Biffa’s report – From Waste Hierarchy to Carbon Hierarchy: Biffa’s Blueprint for Waste Net Zero here.


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