RDF industry group criticises calls for blanket waste exports ban

Waste exports

A blanket ban on waste exports would be more damaging to the environment in many scenarios than allowing the international movement of waste, the Refuse Derived Fuel Industry Group (RDFIG) says.

2022 saw various calls for waste exports to be banned, including from the Environment Agency’s (EA) Chief Executive who said a ban was a potential measure against waste crime. The RDF Industry Group has published a statement which says that most of these calls “miss the point” of environmental protection and enforcement.

The RDF Industry Group (RDFIG) says an export ban would contradict Defra’s mission statement to protect the environment and contribute to economic growth, and would not enable stronger enforcement from the EA.

In the statement, the RDF Group argue: “The UK imports most of the products consumed here; why would we allow materials to be imported but not allow the export of wastes and recyclate created from these materials?”

The Group also highlights the EA’s 2021 National Waste Crime Survey, which states that the observations and experiences reported suggest that waste crime in England is endemic and that activity is on the rise. The report also said that the Covid pandemic was a contributing factor to this increase.

This means preventing waste from leaving a country with an endemic waste crime problem should not be conflated with tackling waste crime, the Group says.

The RDFIG is also calling for a sound regulatory framework, as well as a more robust enforcement presence, to ensure waste is “properly managed”, whether domestically or exported.

What matters most is optimal environmental outcomes and that waste crime is tackled effectively, whether domestically or abroad.

As an example of how to tackle waste crime, the Group cites the amber system of prior notification and consent which controls WDF shipments.

The Group says this includes a financial bond mechanism, where operator payments are only released back to exporters once the receiving facility confirms treatment, which has ensured high levels of compliance for many years across the WDF sector.

Apart from landfill, this is the only part of the UK’s waste management system that is subject to bonds, the Group says, and this system is an “excellent blueprint” for enhancing compliance across the sector as a whole.

Commenting on the statement, Chair of the RDF Industry Group, Andy Jones, said: “Rather than imposing ill-conceived export bans, regulations and enforcement should be implemented across waste and recyclate streams as standard.

“What matters most is optimal environmental outcomes and that waste crime is tackled effectively, whether domestically or abroad. Export bans are not the right measure, and would have the opposite effect in some cases.

“We are concerned to see issues around waste crime and illegal exports of materials being confused with the highly regulated and legitimate industry of WDF exports from the UK. The market failures we see are not due to exports, they are due to a lack of enforcement of the rules already in place.”

The RDFIG was established in 2015 when several waste management companies came together to discuss the “opportunities surrounding the movement of waste-derived fuels” across national borders within Europe.

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