A partnership approach to waste prevention and recycling
SEP 2025 is a partnership approach to waste prevention and recycling, and has been developed on behalf of all Surrey local authorities through the SEP. Read it below or download a PDF of the report.
Key drivers and priorities
Drivers for change
We are at a crucial point now where we must reconsider how we can prevent more waste from arising, increase the quality and quantity of recycling and manage waste in the long term to minimise the impact on the environment and move towards a circular economy, which is being driven by several pressures including:
Emerging national policy
We will need to align with emerging national policies (as outlined above) that will be enshrined in legislation. While the policies aren’t clear yet, they will fundamentally change the way recycling and waste services are funded and delivered. Therefore, we’ll need to be mindful for future service provision and well prepared to deliver any required changes resulting from new national policy in the best way possible.
Reducing carbon at pace
Most authorities in Surrey have declared a climate emergency and all have set a target for reaching net zero emissions as individual organisations. Of the 12 authorities in Surrey, nine have agreed to be carbon neutral organisations by 2030, one authority by 2035, and two by 2050. The climate change strategies and action plans that have been produced by Surrey authorities recognise the carbon that recycling, and waste collection and disposal operations emit. They also recognise the role that preventing and reducing waste, increasing reuse and recycling and planned changes to vehicle fleets and infrastructure will play in tackling climate change.
Increasing population and number of households
The population of Surrey could rise to an estimated 1,309,500 by 2041, which could translate into 34,000 new houses being constructed2. This will result in more recycling and waste and therefore more pressure on our waste collection and disposal services.
2. Office for National Statistics
Surrey’s authorities are facing unprecedented challenges because of reduced financial support from the Government combined with an increasing population and greater demand for our services. In addition, we are now experiencing the cost-of-living crisis in which prices for many commodities have risen sharply meaning services and infrastructure projects will cost more. This situation is being caused in part by a rise in inflation in the UK, in addition to the economic impact of global issues including the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and COVID-19 pandemic (which had already reduced economic activity across the county whilst further increasing the support our communities need from us).
There is only one energy from waste type facility (an Eco Park which includes a gasifier and an anaerobic digestion plant), a lack of recycling processing infrastructure and there are limitations with transfer stations in the county such as the distance to/from them for some waste collection and street cleansing rounds. This situation drives up cost and emissions, which come from transporting waste over longer distances. Also, where we use third party sites to sort recycling, we are limited by what the operator chooses to accept, which drives up inconsistency and causes confusion for household waste collection regimes. Over the next two to three years, SEP will need to consider infrastructure options for future service delivery that reflects the plans and strategies across authorities and enables successful attainment of the performance objectives and targets set out in this document.
The amount of residual waste per household in Surrey has been falling since 2013-14, hitting a low of 450.9kg per household in 2019-20. However, the COVID-19 pandemic saw this figure increase with more people being at home. While this is starting to decrease again as we move away from the pandemic, much more will need to be done to reach the proposed national target of a 50% reduction on 2019 levels by 2042.
Also, recycling rates levelled off back in 2016-17, and Surrey’s performance has stayed around the 55% mark. While this meets the national target for 2025, significant investment and/or changes to approach will likely be required to meet the 65% recycling rate target by 2035.
A recent composition analysis (set out in Appendix 1) highlighted there is still an estimated 90,000 tonnes of material in residual bins which can be recycled. So, the scope for significant improvement on both residual waste reduction and recycling does exist.
There is an estimated 90,000 tonnes in residual bins which can be recycled.
SEP is made up of Surrey County Council (SCC) and the 11 district and borough councils in the county (as shown in Figure 1 below). It was formed originally as the Surrey Waste Partnership (SWP) in 2009 to overcome the challenges of two-tier service delivery and aims to manage Surrey’s recycling and waste in the most efficient, effective, economical, and sustainable way possible. SEP’s plan (the JMWMS) outlined our approach to achieving this.
The challenges set out above mean that the current situation is unsustainable. We need to reduce costs where possible whilst increasing performance and still providing a high-quality service to Surrey residents. To that end, we believe our key priorities should be to:
Table 1: SEP 2025 priorities
1. Reduce all residual waste with a particular focus on food waste
To ensure focus is applied at the top of the waste hierarchy and to align with national targets, we will focus on reducing residual waste by preventing it in the first place. Compared to high performing authorities in England, Surrey has a much higher level of residual waste. We will use the learning gained from these authorities in our future work programmes, and we will continue to engage with Surrey residents to reduce their waste, especially food waste.
2. Promote and maximise reuse
To support the principle of a circular economy, we will seek to maximise opportunities to keep products in use for as long as possible through sharing, reuse, repair and refurbishment. This is an area we’ll provide focus and priority to by developing a reuse strategy for Surrey.
3. Increase participation in food waste recycling
Of course, it’s best to reduce food waste where possible, but any food that is left over should be composted or recycled, not only for the environmental benefits, but because of the money that can be saved, as it costs less than a third to recycle food waste than it does to dispose of it as rubbish. Our capture rate for food waste recycling in Surrey in 2021 was 43%, and as the composition analysis highlighted, there is still an estimated 50,954 tonnes of food waste in residual bins that could be recycled. Therefore, as well as trying to reduce food waste from arising at all, increasing participation in food waste recycling will continue to be a priority for us.
4. Increase the quality and quantity of dry mixed recycling (DMR)
The recent composition analysis highlighted that there are still over 20,000 tonnes of plastic, paper and card, glass and metals that could be collected3 for recycling. Increasing the quantity collected and reducing contamination of DMR further (13,837 tonnes of recycling was rejected in 2020–21) will boost performance towards the 65% recycling rate target and will improve the quality of material and the prices we receive for selling it to re-processors. Therefore, we will work to improve the quantity and quality of the DMR recycling that we collect, which aligns with emerging policy.
5. Decarbonise our waste collection and street cleansing vehicle fleet
To align with our ambition to reach net zero emissions, we must look to reduce emissions from our collection vehicle fleet and switch to alternative fuels4. Therefore, SEP will develop a plan over the next couple of years to look at how we can achieve this objective to decarbonise our waste collection and street cleansing vehicle fleet that recognises the challenges that exist including affordability.
6. Support the development of infrastructure
We will consider what appropriate infrastructure is required to power our vehicles and how we create it, addressing limitations with the lack of recycling and waste infrastructure in the county and work together to develop solutions that address our collective needs.
7. Support optimised collections
We will help review collections, especially with the upcoming national changes in mind, so services run in the most optimal way from a financial and emissions viewpoint.
8. Reduce fly-tipping
We will work with enforcement teams to help bring those who fly-tip to justice, with the longer-term impact of reducing fly-tipping.
9. Reduce litter
We will develop a strategy which sets out our approach to tackling litter, and how we will work with different groups to take advantage of any funding opportunities that arise to reduce litter.
3. This should be done in a completely enclosed process such as a food waste digester as to not attract vermin.
4. This could include renewable diesel, biodiesel, electric or hydrogen. Options appraisal to be determined.