The waste management sector has today (January 30) broadly welcomed the reintroduction of an ‘enhanced’ Environment Bill to Parliament.
But, concerns have been raised over the impact of powers added to the Bill to enable the government to ban or restrict the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
And, others have suggested that the second new provision in the Bill – for a two-yearly review of ‘significant developments in international law’ – might not be sufficient to ensure that environmental standards do not fall after Brexit.
The Bill, which previously passed its second reading before parliament dissolved last year, will provide the legislative framework for the Government to deliver its 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy.
This includes powers to introduce extended producer responsibility and more consistent recycling collections (see letsrecycle.com story).
Welcoming its return to Parliament, Jacob Hayler, chief executive of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) trade body, said: “We view this as cementing the radical changes promised by the Resources & Waste Strategy, particularly in regard to bolstering the ‘polluter-pays’ principle.”
Despite this, reactions to the two new elements of the Bill were more mixed.
New powers to enable the government to ban the export of plastic to non-OECD countries are intended to stop the export of polluting plastic waste to less developed countries and ensure that more is recycled in the UK.
The Recycling Association – which represents independent paper and plastic processors – warned that such a measure could harm legitimate operators.
Chief executive Simon Ellin said: “I am concerned about the introduction of a power to ban the export of plastic to developing countries. There are already strict rules in place on recycled plastic exports via the Basel Convention and the rules that the countries importing the plastics have introduced.
“What we need is better enforcement of those regulations by funding the UK environment agencies sufficiently to catch those who are breaking the rules.”
However, Phil Conran, chair of the government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP), suggested that the ban would not have that big an impact as he said around 80% of plastic packaging waste exports already go to OECD countries and that the Bill only provided the enabling legislation, whereas the “devil would be in the detail”.
“A biennial review of significant developments in environmental legislation is not the same as a legally binding commitment”
Mr Hayler meanwhile welcomed the ban but said it must be accompanied by measures to “unlock” investment in UK plastics recycling infrastructure and demand for recycled products.
He said: “This is a complex issue that ESA members have been working on for some time, to ensure that good markets can continue to be found for UK recycled material”.
Waste management firm Veolia said that while it welcomed any measures to tackle plastics pollution, it would like the government to commit to spend Landfill Tax income on tackling waste crime.
Richard Kirkman, chief technology and innovation officer at Veolia UK, said: “We believe the Landfill Tax could be put to good use in funding a waste crime unit, allowing illegitimate recycling to be shut down.”
Measures to conduct a two-yearly review into international law are also contained within the revised Bill and these were criticised by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) for not being sufficient to safeguard environmental standards.
CIWM’s head of policy, Pat Jennings said: “A biennial review of significant developments in environmental legislation is not the same as a legally binding commitment to maintain and build on current high environmental standards.
“Moves to dilute the UK’s commitment to ‘non-regression’ after Brexit have been the subject of concern across the environment sector and CIWM will be working with other organisations and initiatives on this and other areas of concern over the coming months.”
Concern over this provision was echoed by Eleanor Reeves, counsel and head of law firm Ashurst’s London Environment and Safety practice.
She said:” As we exit the EU these bi-annual reviews could result in a regular cherry picking exercise of what EU environmental law the UK wants to import.”
In general, the industry welcomed the potential for the bill to provide more legislative certainty and therefore unlock investment.
Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group said: “Businesses have been keen to play an important role in this, but lack of clarity about future policy has deterred investment flowing towards the natural environment to date. That’s why we welcome the re-introduction of the Environment Bill today and the creation of a process to set legally binding long-term targets, backed up by environmental improvement plans.”
John Scanlon, chief executive of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said: “We look to the final form of the Bill to create investable conditions,where businesses can put environmental considerations at the forefront of their activities, guided by a clear commonly understood direction of travel supported by transparent targets and simple delivery mechanisms.”