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Regulations need to relax a little but stay focused

Ian Hetherington on improving the regulatory framework and increasing recycling rates

Regulations are crucial in all sectors, and are used to maintain effective working practices while using results to set future targets. Our new Government now has a great opportunity to take up recommendations from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee, which identified metals as a priority area whose regulation and guidance should be reviewed.

Metals recycling is vital to recovering materials from end-of-life products - from waste electrical and electronic equipment to vehicles and batteries. After all, about half of the material processed by metal shredders comes from vehicles. Regulation plays a vital role in ensuring that as much material as possible is recovered and processed - and minimise waste going to landfill. It should steer in the right direction rather than erecting financial or administrative barriers.

Taking up the committee’s recommendations could improve the regulatory framework and increase recycling rates in the UK. End-of-life vehicles provide some good examples of how regulation could be evolved to increase recycling. Each year the industry recycles two million cars and, on average, 75% of each car is metal. Most of the other materials, including glass and plastics, is also recyclable, and we’re well on the way to meeting the 2015 recovery rate target of 95%.

“Regulation should steer in the right direction rather than erecting financial or administrative barriers”

Currently, as soon as an individual or motor trader declares that a vehicle has reached the end of its life, it becomes hazardous waste. This brings with it a number of associated restrictions appropriate for far more dangerous items.

Quite rightly, regulations dictate that vehicles are processed at authorised transport facilities where they can be processed in line with the ELV Directive and Environmental Permitting Regulations. However, because ELVs are classified as hazardous waste, anyone wanting to transport them must, in theory, have an appropriate waste carrier licence and waste transfer note.

The aim of the regulations is a good one – to ensure that hazardous materials are handled and transported properly. But the BMRA recommends streamlining systems for lower-risk hazardous wastes. Many of these items are readily identifiable, making some waste description data requirements more onerous than is necessary.

This would encourage more people to dispose of these materials through the proper channels. This would save some of the resource required by the Environment Agency (EA) and local authorities to process applications at a time when the Government is looking to save £6bn.

Most of the sector keeps to the rules. Lower-risk materials could become largely self-regulating, with appropriate EA inspections to keep an eye on things. It could also stop the duplication of effort between the EA and local authorities. That would free time and resources to pursue persistent offenders that harm our industry and the environment.

The result of this would be something I think we all want to see: cash savings, increased recycling through appropriate channels, maximum value derived from waste materials and a drop in the amount of inappropriate materials going to landfill.

Ian Hetherington is director general of the BMRA

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