Whether it’s targets to reduce waste to landfill or improving the methods to recycle waste electrical and electronic equipment, it is clear the European Union is driving waste policy in the UK. There are varying views about how much UK legislation and regulation stems from the EU but the Local Government Association believes that around half of all regulation affecting local councils has its origins in Brussels.
The Waste Framework Directive; the Landfill Directive and others have all radically modernised the way councils collect, treat, dispose of and recycle waste and have led to an array of local recycling initiatives. The EU also legislates on energy efficiency and as major providers and consumers of energy councils are subject to European rules and targets here too.
“The European Commission will be undertaking a full review of product-specific waste legislation in 2012 to ensure full alignment with the Waste Framework Directive”
This is why local authorities need to know what is happening in the EU at the earliest opportunity to influence decisions which they will ultimately have to implement. One of the best tools for doing this is with the European Commission’s work programme. Published every year, this is the EU equivalent to the Queen’s Speech, outlining initiatives that could affect councils in the coming year from a funding, cost or regulatory point of view. As the EU Executive, it is the Commission which proposes legislation and then the European Parliament and Council of the EU negotiate proposals before they are finalised and become law in each Member State.
There are key proposals on waste policy outlined in the 2011 work programme which the LGA will be working to influence over the coming year. The European Commission will be undertaking a full review of product-specific waste legislation in 2012 to ensure full alignment with the Waste Framework Directive. The review would include the directives on end-of-life vehicles, batteries and packaging. The revision is both a challenge and an opportunity. Such legislation is essential to protect our environment. To be effective, it must be carefully framed. I know that we will be working hard to get the Government to work with the sector so that councils are not left with extra pressure or undue administrative or financial burdens from any new EU rules. There has also got to be a pragmatic acknowledgement of what councils can actually achieve in this period of unprecedented financial cuts. The European Commission is keen to improve the implementation of environmental law and recognises that it needs to work with councils to understand the real impact of new proposals.
“The LGA believes that kerbside collections, where locally appropriate, could help increase collections particularly of small WEEE such as mobile phones which all too often end up in landfill”
The work programme also sets out proposals for new legislation on energy efficiency expected in 2011 and a new EU law which may establish water efficiency targets for public buildings. The Commission will be taking a look at methods to enhance EU environment law compliance and strengthen inspections. Since councils implement EU environment rules, the LGA will be working to influence this process at both the EU and UK levels.
And while there is much on the EU horizon, it is important that work continues right now to influence major pieces of legislation currently going through the European negotiation process. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sitting on the European Parliament’s environment committee have voted on the revision of the WEEE Directive and have outlined their support for an extension of the producer pays principle to finance kerbside collections of waste electrical and electronic equipment. The LGA believes that kerbside collections, where locally appropriate, could help increase collections particularly of small WEEE such as mobile phones which all too often end up in landfill. We will be working to promote this position as negotiations continue at the EU level in early 2011 and ensure that councils’ concerns are taken on board at the European and UK levels both now and further down the pipeline.
Councillor Paula Baker is a member of the LG Group European and International Programme Board and the Environment & Housing Programme Board
Full detail of all LGA positions on EU environment policy can be found here