Post-Brexit, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to develop a better approach to UK waste policy

By Paul Taylor, FCC Environment / 16 March 17

When British voters opted to leave the European Union last summer, it did not automatically signal the country’s exit. That is the job of the much-talked about Article 50, a piece of legislation that, once triggered, will enable Britain’s complex negotiations on exiting the EU to begin.

Post-Article 50, which the Prime Minister has indicated will now likely be the end of March, the road ahead is very vague. What is clear, however, is that as the UK seeks to navigate its future position outside the EU, waste and resource policy must not continue to be deprioritised by UK decision-makers.

For a long time, waste and resources have been the ‘Cinderella’ of environmental policy, compounded by an absence of clear legislative and fiscal drivers, particularly in England. Historically, waste policy has been heavily driven by EU law, meaning that there have been limited opportunities for the UK to decide the direction of our own domestic waste policy. Until now.

A new report published by Policy Exchange earlier this month unveiled the economic potential of the UK waste sector. ‘Going Round in Circles’highlights a number of significant shortcomings in the EU’s current approach to waste, including unclear and muddled objectives, a failure to reflect economic fundamentals (such as plummeting commodity prices), and a utilisation of poor data and definitions which is making it difficult to develop effective policies. Most strikingly, Policy Exchange’s research reveals that following EU waste policies post-Brexit would cost British businesses and households an additional £2 billion over the next 20 years.

Given these shortcomings, it is clear to us that the UK Government should not simply settle for the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach previously adopted by EU environmental directives. Instead, we would like to see the UK take back control of its own waste, and create a more coherent set of policies which better suit the UK’s fiscal environment.

More specifically, we would like to see waste and resources more closely aligned with the Government’s emerging Industrial Strategy. While we were pleased to see Policy Exchange recognise the potential of the UK’s Energy from Waste sector in its report, the reality is that last year, waste management companies spent a staggering £280 million exporting our waste overseas, which other countries used to produce energy which heated homes and businesses. This is simply not a sustainable model. The UK urgently needs increased investment in its own waste infrastructure, which will not only enable us to better manage the waste, but will also help to safeguard the UK’s long-term energy security.

I am confident that our industry will prosper in a post-Brexit Great Britain, but feel our ambitions are unlikely to come to fruition unless the UK Government uses this unprecedented chance to create a smarter approach to managing our domestic waste. It’s an opportunity I hope they grasp with both hands. 

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