Gev Eduljee, external affairs director at SUEZ and an RWM ambassador, wonders what impact Brexit will have on the UK’s circular economy agenda, and says now is the time to start delivering resource policies fit for a post-Brexit Britain
June’s referendum vote will undoubtedly impact our sector, given the preponderance of UK legislation directly transferred from EU law – starting with definitions and running through rules for waste collection, treatment and disposal. But provided Defra and the Environment Agency can re-assemble the resources and expertise lost over the years, aligning these technical rules to a post-Brexit order is the least of our worries. After all, in days of yore the UK created a highly effective home-grown regulatory system around the series of Waste Management Papers, the envy of other countries.
Of greater concern is the potential impact of Brexit on the UK’s circular economy agenda. We rely on EU laws applying to the “other side” of the circle for the “pull” measures we so badly need in order to stimulate the production economy to use our sector’s outputs. The Circular Economy Package currently passing through the European Parliament gave us the vehicle for the demand-side measures we were seeking.
Among these were: applying national resource efficiency tracking indicators; revising the Ecodesign Directive to favour recycled materials over virgin raw materials and designing products for reuse; pushing for Green Public Procurement; and extending Producer Responsibility to a wider range of products. On the energy side, the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive and the Commission’s white paper on the role of energy from waste provided the backdrop for meshing energy policy with waste policy.
A Possible Policy Vacuum
It is a possible policy vacuum that may be left on leaving the EU that we have to worry about. In March’s Environment Council meeting the UK had set out its stall by questioning the evidence base for the Commission’s proposed recycling and landfill targets in its Circular Economy Package, preferring, according to Minister Rory Stewart, an “emphasis on reducing the burden on business, the emphasis on the voluntary approach and … around the issues of production and consumption, … in eco design [and] industrial symbiosis”.
“The question is whether the UK can afford not to implement circular economy policies in the wake of the referendum result”
Unfortunately changes to product design will not be adopted by UK companies just to satisfy the narrow requirements of a UK market, nor will they “voluntarily” subject themselves to more stringent producer responsibility regimes. With businesses playing to the Government’s programme of reducing the regulatory burden, the likelihood is that instead of developing progressive policies to drive the circular economy, the Government will thin out legislation under the pretext of the red tape challenge – jettisoning recycling targets and Article 8 of the Waste Framework Directive relating to producer responsibility, watering down the UK version of the Ecodesign Directive, while setting aside the drive for Green Public Procurement.
The question is whether the UK can afford not to implement circular economy policies in the wake of the referendum result. If we faced resource security challenges while in the EU, these pressures will remain or indeed magnify as we go it alone. Is it smart to continue exporting 12m tonnes of secondary materials each year when the UK is a net importer of raw materials? With future uncertainty over energy supplies, should we not encourage the re-shoring of 4m tonnes of secondary fuel we export to Europe? Far from abandoning our current initiatives, the UK should be refashioning a resource policy toolkit fit for a post-Brexit world.
What might this policy toolkit look like? SUEZ will be launching a report at RWM 2016, setting out a long-term vision for resource management in the UK together with a strategy to provide a new direction to the UK economy. Notwithstanding the present political uncertainty, delivering our own “Circular Economy Package” will take some considerable time, so we cannot wait for the dust to settle before making a start.
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