Key industry bodies, including the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and Suez UK, have backed the UK’s continued membership of the EU, saying that resource efficiency needs policy action “at a larger than national level”.
A date for a referendum on whether the UK remains part of the EU is likely to be announced soon, after prime minister David Cameron concludes his ongoing negotiations in Brussels to get a new deal on the country’s membership.
While the CIWM is surveying its members on their opinions, its corporate view is that European environmental legislation has “played an important role over the last two decades in driving progress on sustainable waste and resource management and environmental protection in the UK”.
Chief executive Steve Lee said: “Priority future policy areas such as resource efficiency and security, the circular economy and climate change will require action at a larger than national level.
“The EU can and does provide a valuable framework for collaboration and agreement at a European level, and helps to ensure a level playing field for its member states with regard to legislation and standards.
Lee (above) said uncertainty over the implications of an exit from the EU made it difficult to discuss the topic, and called on Defra to provide some details on possible effects for the industry.
“With no information regarding the nature of the likely relationship with the EU should the UK opt to leave, and no impact assessment or contingency planning being offered up by Defra as the sector’s lead department, it is extremely hard to have an informed debate,” he said.
“The CIWM will be working to address this knowledge gap over the coming weeks.”
Suez UK also said it supports the UK remaining in the EU and that the country would be “better off” as a member.
“The EU generates a lot of the UK’s environmental policy and legislation, and there would be a void without it. It would be up to the UK Government to fill that void, which is something it has not shown an interest in doing to date,” a spokesperson said.
“We are part of a French-owned global group so we have thousands of colleagues across Europe and employ hundreds of people from wider EU member states, so the referendum raises questions over rights to work and employment laws, many of which are derived from the EU.”
However, the company said it would not be telling its employees which way to vote because it recognises it is a much wider political decision than the recycling sector.
Viridor shared a similar view, arguing that the UK has benefitted from EU environmental laws.
586 Dan Cooke
Director of external affairs Dan Cooke (left) said: “That legislation has had a profoundly positive impact on the UK including recycling, resource security and renewable energy.
“While, like most organisations, we’re actively engaged in assessing the implications of both result options, we remain confident of an outcome that will continue to drive the economic as well as environmental case for a circular economy and energy security.”
Other major recycling firms refrained from commenting on the issue, with one company concerned that views might clash with those of its European owners.
Meanwhile, compliance firm Ecosurety dismissed the referendum as a “red herring”, arguing that an EU exit would have little effect on the UK recycling industry.
Companies producing battery, packaging or electrical and electronic waste would still be required to provide evidence of their responsibilities as producers if the country voted to leave, according to the organisation.
Policy director David Burton said: “Our 1,000-plus members across food, retail, manufacturing and IT sectors are understandably concerned about what steps to take in the short to medium term in the event of a shock exit.
“After significant analysis, we conclude there will be no noticeable long-term difference in the waste and recycling industry, whether the UK stays in or decides to get out of the EU this summer.”
He said the Government’s drive to cut red tape meant it would maintain the principles of EU directives even in the event of the UK’s exit.
However, Burton did say that an EU exit could mean smaller UK manufacturers would face additional compliance costs when sending finished goods to Europe. But this would be balanced initially by current benefits of low oil prices, a strong pound and beneficial raw material prices, he said.
A strong pound could also hinder the UK’s ability to export, either in or outside the EU, he argued.
Defra secretary Liz Truss is believed to be undecided on her position, after Cameron said Conservative MPs would be allowed a free vote on the issue.