Industry leaders have warned of the impact on the sector of leaving the EU after the Prime Minister promised a referendum.
In a long-awaited speech, David Cameron called for a full EU treaty renegotiation and promised an in-out referendum by 2017 if the Tories win the next general election.
Cameron said a workable single-market did not necessarily require complete harmonisation.
“We need to examine whether the balance is right in so many areas where the European Union has legislated including on the environment”, he said.
But there was widespread scepticism from an industry transformed by more than thirty years of European waste policy.
Industry leaders said the speech would spread uncertainty among investors. And policy experts warned that pro-green growth policy makers could find it more difficult to implement environmental policies without EU directives.
Labour’s shadow waste minister Gavin Shuker said: “Our waste and resources industry relies on cooperation across the EU. To propose an in-out referendum, on a deal as yet unsecured, will lead to five years of uncertainty for already-nervous investors.
“Instead of undermining environmental cooperation, and action for growth, this Tory-led government should be leading in Europe to get a good deal for our recycling sector.”
Co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resources Group, Labour’s Barry Sheerman MP, warned that a UK exit would have a “huge impact” on waste policy.
He said Cameron’s speech would “feed uncertainty” around future policy, affecting global waste firms operating in the UK.
Environmental Services Association economist Jacob Hayler, told MRW that EU legislation had been the “principal driver” of the UK industry’s development in the move from landfill, with billions of pounds invested in infrastructure to meet EU requirements.
“Exiting the EU would leave a huge void for the industry as it would be unclear to what degree we would retain any elements of the European path towards higher levels of environmental sustainability. Without the EU target framework to guide the development of new infrastructure we could find the further billions of pounds of fresh investment in green jobs and growth drying up overnight.”
Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the reprocessors’ body, the Resource Association said the EU was setting the agenda for resource security and a green economy in Europe.
“The threat of exit is not helpful for those making long term investment decisions – green jobs, trade and investment could all be at stake. In the debate that now follows, I hope that short-term political pressures are not allowed to overwhelm the long term needs of our climate, environmental policy and green economy.”