Brexit uncertainty was a key topic discussed during the first session of the annual RDF Conference in London last week (29 November).
Implications were raised by Harriet Parke of resource consultancy Eunomia, the secretariat of the RDF Industry Group, who suggested ways to pre-empt the difficulties which could be caused by a no-deal Brexit.
Topics covered included customs arrangements, tariffs, and legislation.
Setting the scene, Ms Parke explained that 14% of residual waste is currently exported. In 2017, 3.7 million tonnes of RDF and SRF was exported.
Ms Parke explained that three factors would have an impact on RDF exports if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal on March 29: tariffs, notification procedures, and custom arrangements.
“There’s a lot that needs to happen very, very rapidly if we don’t reach a deal,” she warned.
The issue over tariffs relates to whether waste exports are regarded as transport of goods – which incur a 6.5% tariff – or the provision of a service.
According to Ms Parke, Defra has indicated that residual waste exports would be regarded as service provision, however, this still relies on agreement from European countries receiving the waste.
On the notification side, exporters may have to reapply for TFS (transfrontier of shipment) permits if the UK leaves without a deal.
Ms Parke warned of “an issue for current notification that span the period going beyond the 29th of March,” she said, may potentially cease to be valid. She said the latest estimate from the Environment Agency is that there are between 500-600 notifications that span that period for waste exports.
At the end of last month (22 November), Defra made an amendment to the International Waste Shipment Regulations to enable the continued use of TFS notifications following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
However, Ms Parke warned of a “no man’s land” for notifications that end just before or after the new regulations come into effect on March 29 – before this date operators will have to apply within the old framework.
The RDF expert said Defra has been writing to competent authorities in the EU to secure permission to amend all TFS notifications at once. However, Defra has received no responses as yet, she revealed.
In terms of customs, if no deal is reached agreements would see checks on around 5% of movements. And, Ms Parke explained that delays at ports generally could have knock-on implications for RDF.
If the government’s draft deal is accepted, then customs checks and tariffs will not be introduced in the transition period.
However, Ms Parke explained: “All of the issues I’ve just discussed for a no-deal scenario, still need to be ironed out, and still need to be agreed, we just have longer to do that.”
“Overall, the mechanisms are becoming clearer, lots of work is going on, however, there’s still a hell of a lot to do in terms of clarifying and formalising the actual processes that we need to go through to make sure we’re in a situation where exports can effectively continue.”
In order to prepare, Ms Parke advised operators in the audience to take number of measures now. “Firstly engaging with customs teams, identifying whether there are fast lanes or for perishable products, which RDF effectively can be classified as. Also, think about when your TFS notifications end.”
And, she also urged the sector to consider storage requirements in the lead up to 29 March.
Also speaking during the first session at the event was Alban Forster, director of SLR Consulting, who spoke about the company’s report on RDF for CIWM.
Following on from Mr Forster, the Environment Agency’s Mike Tregent, provided a regulation perspective.
On the topic of Brexit, Mr Tregent warned that the uncertainty could “create conditions where waste crime might be more probable and it creates volatility in secondary markets.”
Speaking more generally on waste crime interventions, Mr Tregent said: “We are in the process of ramping up powers. I think this has been welcomed by everyone.”
Mr Tregent spoke of the Environment Agency’s progress in gaining intelligence to deal with waste crime. And, on exemptions, Mr Trent said: “In essence a number of exemptions that have been abused are likely to be changed in terms of thresholds or tonnages.”
Last week, Defra published the response to its waste crime consultation in which it stopped short of confirming precise technical changes to exemptions requirements (see letsrecycle.com story). Instead, the department said this was a measure it was “continuing to consider”.
“The fact remains that we want to improve that recognition of the value of waste at the point of production… where a product has serviced its first purpose,” he said. “Improving duty of care helps to give us the tools to do that.”
Mr Tregent said the Environment Agency was keen to work collaboratively to tackle waste crime. “Great strides have been made, and that should be recognised. We appreciate everyone’s efforts.”