Much has been said about a possible “Brexit” (that’s Britain’s exit from Europe, if you’ve somehow not come across the term before), but what might it mean for the waste and resources sector? Dr Bob Couth, a Fellow of CIWM, offers his opinions… feel free to tell us yours…
The population of the UK has a vote on 23 June of this year to decide whether to stay “in” or “exit” the European Union (EU). David Cameron has obtained a package of reforms to our membership which relate to migrant welfare payment, sovereignty, trade discrimination and competitiveness. However, what might it mean to sustainability and resource management in the UK if we vote to “exit”?
Over the last 25 years the UK’s resource management legislation has been led by the EU legislation; in fact there is little resource management legislation that has not been led by it. The main pieces of EU sustainable legislation that has been directly and in-directly transposed into UK legislation includes the Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) and the Greenhouse Gas Emission Allowance Trading Directive (2003/87/EC).
In the late 1990s, the UK Government debated at length with the EU over the targets for the disposal of biodegradable municipal waste to landfill and gained a four year derogation of Landfill Directive targets to 75% (2010), 50% (2013) and 35% (2020) of 1995 landfill tonnages. This has not been transposed directly into UK legislation, but the UK has sought to reduce greenhouse gas methane emissions from landfills through the introduction of Landfill Tax in 1996 and the Landfill Emissions Trading Scheme in 2003. Landfill Tax has been increased to make waste treatment costs more competitive and has meant that the UK met the 2013 Landfill Directive target and is on course to meet the 2020 target. If the UK leaves the EU then there is no pressure from the risk of infringement proceedings and fines.
Sustainability and the greenhouse gas emissions in the UK are currently legislated through the 2008 Climate Change Act. The UK is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emission target by at least 80% from the 1990 baseline by 2050. This issue is global and bigger than the EU and should not necessarily be influenced by the UK staying in or exiting the EU.
The application of resource management, the Circular Economy EU policies and legislation has been devolved to the Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales’ governments. There is currently no government for England to devolve waste legislation.
Wales already meets the Waste Framework Directive target of 50% household waste recycling and recovery target by 2020, while the household waste recycling and recovery rate in England has stagnated around 45% as local authorities don’t appear to have funding required to improve. The population of England is around 53m, whereas that of Scotland and Wales is around 5m and 3m respectively. Consequently, unless the UK Government passes direct or in-direct legislation to improve household waste recycling and recovery in England over the next couple of years, the UK as a whole will likely miss the 2020 target, which may result in infringement proceedings and fines against the UK. It would be assumed that if the UK Government received these fines, then it would consider passing them down to non-performing authorities.
If the UK population votes to leave the EU, fines for infringement of the Waste Framework Directive will not apply. However, should this happen then the Scottish Government could call for a referendum on independence.
The differences in waste management policy between the countries in the UK may be further diversified if the UK leaves the EU; and the EU Circular Economy Package does not transpose into English law. The EU Commission is seeking to close the loop of product lifecycles through greater recycling and reuse.
The Welsh Government already has statutory recycling and recovery targets that exceed the common EU municipal waste recycling target, and these have been passed into law in Wales through the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 (amended 2012).
Should We Stay Or Should We Go?
So, should the UK stay “in” or “exit” the EU with respect to resource management issues? We might find that there is greater control over future resource management policy and legislation if we exit; and it could be potentially cheaper in the short-term to leave if all other environmental considerations are ignored. However, will there be sufficient sustainability ambition and leadership if we do exit? The choice is yours.
Have your say on what an exit might mean for our industry by leaving your comments below or email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org