Producer Responsibility In A Post-Brexit World

Jacob-HaylerJacob Hayler, chief executive of the ESA and an RWM ambassador, says that Brexit has moved us further from the certainty our sector craves, but that an enhanced role for producer responsibility could moves the UK’s circular economy on to the next level


BrexitThe past few weeks have, of course, been dominated by the EU referendum outcome. The waste and recycling industry has, in recent years, been crying out for greater certainty over the post-2020 legislative framework that will govern our sector. A Brexit vote has moved us in the opposite direction and clarity from the UK Government is now needed more than ever.

Negotiations on the final shape of the EU Circular Economy Package will continue in parallel to the UK’s exit negotiations once Article 50 has been triggered. If the UK’s exit deal includes continued access to the single market then it seems likely that the new package will apply in full to our sector. But if we choose to leave the single market then timing becomes a crucial issue. Plausible scenarios exist both whereby we leave prior to the introduction of the new package, but also where the package is due for transposition into UK law prior to full single market withdrawal.

This places a cloud of uncertainty over the waste and recycling industry. We have moved from the landfill and logistics industry of the past to the recycling and recovery levels of today. It is clear that the EU wishes to move further along this path. It seems most likely that a future UK Government would wish to follow the same direction. But would it wish to move at the same pace? And what would its view be on new extended producer responsibility requirements?

EPR: A Powerful Tool

Recycling-ciwm-journal-online-targetESA believes that an enhanced role for producer responsibility could be a powerful tool which moves the UK’s circular economy on to the next level. Landfill tax has done its job and we now need to introduce measures to pull materials through the system and improve our resource efficiency. Extended Producer Responsibility could perform this role. In the short term, it would transfer costs from the public sector – now likely to be even more financially constrained following the referendum result – and in the longer term it would put the right incentives in place to find efficiencies and drive down whole system costs.

It is my firm belief that we don’t need to rely on the EU to do the right thing and that the UK Government should (in theory at least) be perfectly capable of setting the long-term strategy that the waste and recycling industry needs. The economic and environmental case for moving towards a more circular economy remains compelling and we now have an opportunity to work with the UK Government to deliver more circular outcomes.

Investment in UK recycling and recovery infrastructure is currently struggling against a backdrop of hugely fragmented supply chains and ongoing endemic criminal activity. There is a strong case for a more strategic approach from policy makers which would boost demand for recycled materials, help the sector realise greater efficiencies and economies of scale, and redirect regulatory efforts to more effectively stamp out waste crime. Extended Producer Responsibility could be the tool which underpins much of this.

ESA is keen to work with Government (both central and local) and other stakeholders to find practical and deliverable options for the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility in the UK. Brexit puts us in a position of great uncertainty. Let’s turn it into a great opportunity.


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