Industry bodies say proposed powers against suspect exports of recyclable materials will aid reputable companies.
The Government’s consultation on changes to the proposed Transfrontier Shipment of Waste (Amendment) Regulations 2013 closed today (10 May).
It canvassed opinion on measures which ministers said would improve enforcement of waste exports.
These include giving the four UK environmental authorities access to information from HMRC on exports, and transferring responsibility to them for regulating waste in transit across the UK and its marine area from Defra.
There would also be powers for the UK Border Force to stop and detain suspect shipments without needing a request from an environmental regulator.
Fees for importing and exporting waste from Northern Ireland would rise to reflect enforcement costs.
Jakob Rindegren, recycling policy advisor at the Environmental Services Association, said: “The ESA supports the Environment Agency’s intelligence-led approach to intercepting and stopping illegal exports, which do so much to undermine the legitimate industry.
“We therefore welcome the proposals in the consultation, on the basis that they will make it easier for the EA to tackle illegal exports.”
The ESA has decided against making a detailed response, and will simply tell ministers it welcomes their proposals.
Richard Kirkman, technical director for Veolia Environmental Services UK also welcomed the proposals, which it said would “make the legitimate export of recyclates more robust”.
He added: “The exporting of these materials to be turned back into products makes up a critical feature of the circular economy and UK recycling performance.”
Resource Association chief executive Ray Georgeson said in his response that the organisation also supported the proposed reforms.
He said: “We believe that significant quantities of poor quality recovered paper and plastics is being exported as green list waste and the current Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations are failing to prevent or deter this.
“We support this review as an important opportunity to strengthen the current enforcement systems.”
Georgeson added there was particular concern about illegal shipments for manual sorting overseas in poor working conditions in facilities not ‘broadly equivalent’ to UK ones.
He said allowing the UK Border Force to intercept suspect shipments would help to counter a flourishing illegal trade that had grown “as a result of the EA’s enforcement resources being unable to keep pace with the huge physical growth in waste exports”.
“In effect, this has become a mechanism for landfill tax avoidance in some quarters,” the association noted.
It linked the proposed measures to the recent consultation on draft MRF Regulations. Taken with the planned clampdown on suspect exports, this would help to “deal with the elements of the business that run the risk of causing serious reputational damage to legitimate companies [and] we expect Government to offer mutual support in this regard”.
Concerns for reprocessors
However, Stuart Pohler, recovered paper sector manager at the Confederation of Paper Industries, was sceptical about the consultation.
“There is little if anything in the proposed amendments to allay the concerns of ‘green list’ material reprocessors, such as the recovered paper sector,” he said.
“The gist of proposals was made following the 2007 waste review, along with subsequent shifting and sharing of existing administrative responsibilities across different agencies rather than actually enhancing enforcement activities.”
Pohler said cuts to Environment Agency’s funding made it “difficult to foresee where any direct improvements in the quality of recovered paper and other materials might arise from these proposals as they currently stand”.
He added: “The word quality isn’t mentioned once in the consultation document, so one has to wonder where Defra’s priorities lie.”