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A new dawn against over-regulation?

Mention ‘red tape’ and most readers will have something to say about the Government’s latest drive to supposedly assist the world of business by slashing problematic and inconsistent parts of legislation and policy.

In fact, in the same breath, they will probably segue straight into their views on the burden of regulations too.

This sector-wide anxiety is understandable. If the Government chooses to encompass the suggestions outlined in the responses to its consultation, it could signal a new beginning for metal recyclers and industry as a whole, shedding rules that hurt bottom lines. But if it forges ahead regardless, we could be facing an even more uncertain future.

For the most part, regulation is not something to be feared. It helps to ensure that businesses operate responsibly. When implemented well and properly enforced, it creates an environment for legitimate businesses while penalising the non-compliant.

But unnecessary regulation or poor implementation can undermine the best of intentions. To avoid this, we have identified five key areas where small changes could ease the burden on many companies in the sector.  

Waste Shipment Regulations

The UK’s metal recyclers are extremely efficient at recovering metal from end-of- life products. In fact, they are so efficient that more is recovered than can be consumed domestically. As a result, around 70-80% of all ‘waste’ metal is now destined for export – in competition with suppliers from the US and Japan who are not required to characterise recycled metal as waste.

At the same time, some of the current requirements associated with waste shipments create significant trade barriers. For example, the requirement to supply financial guarantees for every notifiable shipment can lead to overlaps, particularly for operators exporting recovered metal by container.

This ties up significant working capital and may limit an operator’s ability to supply in a fast-moving market. It would be helpful if the provision was simplified and streamlined to reduce (or eliminate) these costs.

On top of this, the fees and charges associated with processing a notifiable waste shipment are among the highest in Europe, and puts UK-recovered metal exporters at a significant commercial disadvantage.

We believe the UK should push for the Europe-wide adoption of an electronic annex VII rather than doggedly sticking to the outmoded paper system we now have.

Environmental permitting

Many recyclers need to have different permits for different producer responsibility schemes. Instead of having to renew them annually, if the permits were lengthened to cover three years, this would significantly reduce the administrative burden.

At the same time, the hazardous waste premises registrations system should also be reviewed. It is unclear what benefit the system offers and, if no environmental gain is achieved by maintaining the system, then it should be rescinded. If it does stay, then the renewal frequency could also be done every three years.

Clearer and simpler guidance

There are many examples of issues where industry would benefit from clearer and simpler guidance. For example, approved exporter ‘broadly equivalent evidence’ requirements need increased transparency because it is currently unclear exactly what checks are undertaken. Likewise, operational risk appraisal guidance is overly complicated and there are far too many documents involved.

Data collection

The existing hazardous waste consignment note and waste transfer notes could be replaced with a consolidated and simplified note that captures relevant information yet reduces paperwork.

Similarly, quarterly general operator returns and hazardous waste returns could be consolidated to avoid operators duplicating effort. In addition, the statutory register of scrap metal dealers already has inconsistent data and is not always kept up-to-date, resulting in a foggy picture of the current licensing regime.


Moving towards a less-regimented and more risk-based inspection regime would shift the focus to illegal operations and poor performers rather than it being on compliant sites. While not a red tape issue, it would stop businesses worrying about having to demonstrate their compliance for arbitrary reasons.

In conclusion, many of the regulatory issues faced by the industry have relatively straightforward fixes if the impetus is there. After all, the request for change stems from the desire to streamline the business process to better en- able our members to survive difficult times, if not to grow their businesses and contribute more to the UK plc.  

Ian Hetherington is director general of the British Metals Recycling Association

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