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The election needs to bring change for metals recyclers

Whichever party emerges triumphant on 7 May, there can be little doubt that the in-tray of the new Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs will be over-flowing with new initiatives and calls for legislative changes.

The advent of a new government will be an appropriate time for Defra to take stock and re-assess the needs of the waste and recycling industry. There can be little doubt that during Labour’s three terms there has been major progress. Recycling rates have risen significantly on the back of extensive household collections and an increase in waste processing infrastructure. Steps have also now been taken to increase C&I waste recycling rates.

Despite these developments, there is still much to do if we are to maintain progress and reach the Government’s ambitious targets of achieving greenhouse gas reductions of 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

The metals recycling sector contributes £5bn to the economy and recovers around 15 million tonnes of metal a year. As the largest and most successful industry within the UK’s recycling sector, metals recycling has a key role to play in helping the country achieve these targets, and yet we are being held back by burdensome legislation and the application of inappropriate regulation.

My own ‘Metals Manifesto’ would see metals recyclers liberated from unnecessary red tape and set free to maximise the massive environmental benefits that this industry delivers.

Top of my wish-list for the new secretary of state would be a call for ministers to honour the EFRA Committee’s 2010 recommendation to the Government for a fundamental review of regulation across the metal recycling sector.

This requires Government to recognise that the metals recycling industry sits in a unique position straddling the waste and resources sector on one hand, and the engineering and metals sector on the other. Adapting measures better suited to waste disposal activities to fit the patterns of trade that drive the metals sector creates unnecessary tensions between industry and regulators.  A comprehensive review, as recommended by the EFRA Committee could help to diffuse these tensions to everyone’s benefit.

The second step the sector would like to see is for the police and regulators to target the real perpetrators of metal related crime and the transport of stolen metals and not the legitimate metals recycling industry who are regular victims of this type of crime.

A new Government could also help significantly boost recycling rates by freeing up more capacity and providing some support for the development of the advanced recovery technologies in order that the UK can meet its recycling targets generally and especially for WEEE, ELVs and packaging. Key capacity requirements are for specialist EFW facilities that can process shredder residues and immediate adjustments to the planning system to ensure that local plans adequately provide for metal recycling sites in the right locations in order to facilitate metal recycling close to the sources of scrap metal.

Additionally, we need fiscal measures to enable recyclers to off-set the significant costs of investment in advanced recovery technologies against landfill tax payable on the final resulting residues.

The BMRA will, no doubt, be just one of a number of trade associations and interest groups forming an orderly queue outside the new Secretary of State’s door. But I believe we have a very strong case for change because, we have a long-standing track-record of success, established international markets for our material and a key role to play in helping create the ‘green-collar’ economy that Lord Mandelson has called on industry to create. However, our full potential can only be realised with the implementation of the changes we are calling for.

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