Waste management policy has largely failed to make national headlines in the public discussions on the imminent in-out referendum.
But despite the absence of mainstream coverage, a lowkey debate around the EU’s influence has taken place within the sector, with some difference of opinions being aired.
The most popular view, expressed by organisations such as the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), is that EU membership has had a positive influence on UK resources policy.
The CIWM recently reported that almost 80% of 500 members who responded to a poll said the EU had made a positive impact on UK legislation, with 60-70% expecting this positive influence to continue.
Waste management giants Suez UK and Viridor have also praised the EU’s lead on environmental issues, with the former expressing concern that a policy vacuum would be created in its absence. This lack of UK drive was picked up on in a report by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which said that “relatively little appears to have been done by way of planning in the case of the UK leaving”. As the department leading on waste issues, Defra has come in for criticism for showing a lack of leadership on matters including the European Commission’s circular economy package. Resource Association chief executive Ray Georgeson was prompted to write an open letter to EAC chair Mary Creagh, saying the Government had not “properly shared or communicated with stakeholders” its position on the plans.
This came shortly after CIWM chief executive Steve Lee’s reaction to Defra’s latest departmental plan, saying “whether or not we remain in the EU, this package of measures will impact on the UK and it is alarming to see no mention of it in Defra’s plan…The stark picture here is of a department that is utterly depleted in terms of resources, funding and vision.”
The All Party Parliamentary Environment Group said the UK would be unlikely to show more ambition if free from the EU’s guidance because it could already aim higher if it wanted to. Its report published in March warned that “unavoidable uncertainty and disruption” would be created in the short term by a vote to leave, hitting investor confidence, with loss of European influence a long-term negative effect.
900 Jacob Hayler
ESA executive director Jacob Hayler agreed with the report’s conclusions on immediate effects, commenting that “industry investment critically dependson certainty, a degree of which at least is provided by EU legislation”.
But a few industry figures have spoken less positively about the EU’s influence and show less concern about a potential exit.
FCC Environment chief executive Paul Taylor said: “The UK would not be where it is today without EU legislation. But in a lot of cases, the Governments in the UK have gone way beyond it. I think it is wrong to say that, without being part of Europe, there would be some fundamental shift in the basic laws that are there.
“I don’t see any of the laws we currently have being repealed.”
Grundon deputy chairman Neil Grundon dismissed the idea of a potential policy vacuum caused by an EU exit: “There seems to be an opinion that, without the benevolent guiding hand of the EU, we would all be swamped in a myriad of waste materials and fighting our way through a sea of plastic bags.
“It should come as no surprise that we have been, and are, perfectly capable of inventing our own ideas and technologies and successfully exporting them to the rest of the world.”
Others have dismissed the importance of the referendum entirely, with compliance firm Ecosurety’s policy director David Burton saying the UK Government’s own drive to cut red tape meant it would maintain the ‘better regulation’ principles of EU Directives regardless of its membership.
Whichever way the country votes on 23 June, the most immediate effect on the waste industry could be a reshuffle of UK environment ministers.
Despite the industry’s criticism of Defra’s waste policy, it would not like to see resources minister Rory Stewart moved after less than a year in the post because it could scupper some progress made under his direction
Phil Conran, @360env:
Scotland shows ability to think beyond EU. Doesn’t need EU for strong environmental policy unless no national resolve….
Ray Georgeson, @raygeorgeson:
But there is no national resolve – at least in England – that’s one reason why we are #GreenerIn! Conran: So much exaggerated speculation fm both sides that still v difficult to KNOW. Head or heart?
Resource Media, @resource_media:
Can’t see rest of Europe would let UK pick and choose on environment if we want to trade, but… Conran: But IF we left, who would follow? & would EU continue in current form? Questions questions! By the way, I’m probably ‘in’ but some ridiculous arguments on both sides.
Key EU Legislation Affecting Waste
- Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 1994
- Landfill Directive 1999 l Waste Incineration Directive 2000
- End-of-Life Vehicles Directive 2000
- Batteries and Accumulators Directive 2006
- Waste Shipments Regulation 2006
- Waste Framework Directive 2008 (based on the Waste Framework Directive 1975)
- WEEE Directive 2012