After the tremendous success of the recent post on Brexit, many readers asked me to provide more details regarding the impacts to waste management and recycling industry. So, today, one day before the UK Referendum, let’s have a look at the major views and answers to the question: what will be the changes in waste management and recycling in case UK voters decide to leave EU?

In a recent CIWM event in London, 100% of the audience of 200+ professionals voted to remain. David Newman, ISWA’s President explains why Brexit is unpopular in the waste management industry “Waste management is an industry that depends for its development upon regulations, taxes, enforcement. Only governments can make rules, impose taxes, enforce the laws against illegal activity. The UK government, as a coalition for five years and now as a Conservative majority, has made virtually no new laws, regulations or imposed any new taxes which have led to growth of our industry there. Indeed, recycling is flat since two years, no major PPI projects have been announced since 2014 and as a result, 3+ million tons of RDF go to Europe to be burnt. The government claims to be “in listening mode”. Some say they are either deaf or don’t want to hear. And as 2020 approaches, the UK on current trends will miss the EU targets”.

Bob Couth’s article in CIWM describes the same story with more details. In brief, he concluded “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”.

Another good summary of the debate on Brexit and the future of waste management in UK can be found at the recent article “Five things we learned at Resourcing the Future 2016“. This is a characteristic piece “Could we protect the environment outside of the EU? Yes, we could,”, said consultant Stephen Tindale. “But would we? No.” As Fiona Ross, an environment law expert with Pinsent Masons, has written “There are concerns over whether the UK has sufficient resources in place to implement any real change in law or policy without the EU driving it. DEFRA has not set out new waste policies for a number of years, and has taken a light touch to implementing new legislation from the EU. This contrasts with Scotland, and to some extent Wales, where there have been signs of a more ambitious approach to the issue of waste and resources. Even if the waste sector retains a ‘business as usual’ scenario by retaining existing laws and standards after leaving the EU, it remains very unclear how law and policy will progress in the future”.

In a similar attitude, according to the House of Commons library: “The benefits of effective waste management to both the environment and the economy may mean that UK withdrawal would not lead to a substantial change in approach, but it would reduce the impetus to meet legislative targets within clear timeframes and remove the threat of legal challenge for any failure.”

Although the vast majority of waste management and recycling professionals are leaning towards the “Remain” option, I found a representative piece that supports the “Leave” option. It’s written by Neil Grundon, deputy chairman of Grunion Waste Management. He argues that “We in the waste industry can’t afford to wait another 15 years for things to change. Waste and environmental policy will not improve by stagnating (or maybe I should say composting); it will improve because those demanding change are brave enough to make it happen, and yes – that’s why I believe a Brexit would give us greater control of our own destiny”.

In the same line of thinking, other views support that the impacts will not be substantial or they will be minimum “… there are many whom argue that Brexit would simply have no effect on our waste legislation…And, of course, even without the EU many in Britain still have an environment conscious and want to have a positive impact on the world and its resources. This is even backed up by WEEE (The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) who conducted a thorough analysis (conveniently for us) which stated that there would be little impact on waste management if we were to leave the EU”.

David Newman replies to the arguments that support Brexit as follows. “The EU Circular Economy package is a way forward to increase investments, drive up the quality of resource management, improve the relationships between industry, design, collection and resource recovery, allow long term planning and reduce emissions, increase employment and raw material security. Without such a package the UK government will be listening for years to come. The same could possibly be said of many other governments around Europe. Using the EU to overcome national policy inertia is why we waste managers should all be voting for Bremain”.

Well, although the arguments regarding waste management and recycling will not play the key-role for the decisions to be made tomorrow, certainly they provide good food for thought for everyone involved in our industry. The choice belongs to the voters.


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