The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), the national body that represents businesses which provide the technology and services that deliver environmental performance – has today called for a national debate on setting ambitious but realistic recycling targets for 2025 to provide a framework for the resources sector post-Brexit.  The call comes in a briefing paper published by EIC, with legal advice from B P Collins, on the implications of Brexit for waste regulations and the waste and resources sector titled: Brexit: Implications for the Waste and Resources Sector.

EIC Executive Director Matthew Farrow said:

‘The complex layers of EU waste law established over 40 years have transformed waste management and recycling in the UK, helping us get from bottom of the league to mid-table. Post-Brexit the Government must resist making significant changes to regulations as this will undermine what has been achieved.

But there are areas where new thinking is required.  It is not clear that the UK will meet the EU 2020 50% recycling target and Commission will no longer be able to sanction the UK for not achieving it. While the EU is considering a one-size fits all target for the remaining EU countries for 2030, the UK should consider setting a 2025 target that is ambitious but realistic in a UK context.  Such a target if set with industry and cross-party support would provide an investment framework for the industry to drive UK progress towards a circular economy.’

Other recommendations made in the report include:

• Consult on new recycling targets in England for 2025: EU waste policy targets have provided investor confidence in the sector and drive investment decisions for many years. Post-Brexit existing or future targets will not apply in the UK. We need to develop new UK targets that reflect stakeholder consensus on what is ambitious but credible. Brexit is also an opportunity to consider whether tonnage targets could be made more nuanced by incorporating measures focused on wider environmental goals such as CO2 impacts.

• Retain the EU definition of waste: Despite its flaws, UK industry has got used to working with the existing definition. A wholesale change post Brexit could create years of confusion and legal uncertainty. Retaining the EU definition could also help with Anglo-European trade in recyclate.

• Review the Separate Collection provisions of the revised Waste Framework Directive: The current wording has led to too much ambiguity.  A more pragmatic approach, focused on clear operational guidelines that enable high quality recyclate to be delivered should be developed instead.

• The concept of Best Overall Environmental Option (BOEO) should be used alongside the waste hierarchy: Under EU law the waste hierarchy  (reduce, reuse, recycle, energy from waste, landfill) has legal force. The hierarchy should remain as an overall framework for policy making, but it should also be recognised that there may be cases, such as with some types of hazardous waste, where options such as disposal in a regulated hazardous landfill may be the best option.

• Industrial strategy: Circular economy approaches should be prioritised around a resources strategy linked to the government sectors prioritised in the new industrial strategies.

• Circular Economy Package: EU Ecodesign regulations that derive from the forthcoming EU Circular Economy Package should be adopted by the UK to help facilitate UK-EU trade as well as for environmental reasons

• Devolved Nations: Regulatory commonality across the nations/regions of the UK should be encouraged even while targets and policy initiatives may diverge

The report was drafted with support from law firm B P Collins’ environment team, which takes a keen interest on behalf of its clients in the waste industry sector as to the impact  of EU waste legislation  in the UK. David Smellie, a partner in the environment group said:

‘This report acts as a real voice for the industry. Any indication on the future of environmental policy and indeed legislation in the waste management sector  has been largely absent from any recent government announcements on Brexit or in the Brexit white paper. So this is a real opportunity for the industry to help influence the next steps that the government should take on developing and facilitating the future growth of this sector.”

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