“Often, regulation gets in the way.” That was one of the opening phrases from resource minister Therese Coffey during a debate on the circular economy (CE) last November.
She argued that markets, not governments, were best placed to develop opportunities for resource efficiency, delivering benefits for both the environment and the bottom line.
The minister is correct that the journey to a resource-efficient economy relies on businesses embracing the principle wholeheartedly. But the Government’s own regulatory authority has to do likewise.
Regulation must continue to provide the correct market signals and help to move demand patterns in the right direction. It can only do this if it regulates fairly, setting the correct balance between environmental protection and the need to encourage recycling.
For a horticultural company such as Rolawn, regulation is important in helping to improve our resource efficiency while ensuring compliance with the law. But the current regulatory framework designed by Defra and the Environment Agency (EA) is hampering these efforts.
This is evidenced by the difficulties businesses such as ours face in achieving certification for products, even when there is a legal, economic and environmental case for granting end-of-waste (EoW) status.
This barrier to market became significantly higher when the EA decided to close the Definition of Waste Panel. While the panel had been criticised for its excessive analysis, the replacement, a self-assessment method called Isitwaste, presents clear challenges.
Isitwaste places the onus on operators to determine if their recycled products meet EoW criteria. This might appear sensible but the reality is that it may deter investment. Businesses need some regulatory certainty and, without it, many will not invest significantly in research and innovation.
Many EoW submissions would benefit from technical collaboration and dialogue with the EA – not this ‘hands-off’ approach. Other organisations appear to share our concerns, with 360 Environmental saying that the “un-wieldy” tool “struggles with practicalities”.
Rather than unleashing a CE revolution, this regulatory change could have the reverse effect. The EA’s decision could also present challenges for enforcement as the ‘bad guys’ take advantage of the lack of Government oversight.
The industry is already feeling the effects. For Rolawn, it threatens job losses and a significant loss of revenue, not to mention investment plans being put on hold.
Paul Dawson is managing director of Rolawn