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Coffey: hard Brexit will be no problem for waste trade

Resources minister Therese Coffey said UK industry is “unnecessarily worried” over the impact on the international waste trade following Brexit, even if there is no trade deal with the EU.

Giving evidence to the Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, Coffey said that under the EU Withdrawal Bill, the EU waste shipment regulations would in effect be brought into UK law.

She added: “Apart from one or two instances, everything can carry on as now. There’s no reason for any concerns for the smooth transition in regards to waste management.”

Lord Krebs, who cited concerns from the Environmental Services Association over a ‘hard’ Brexit possibly disrupting trade and driving up costs, asked whether the industry was unnecessarily worried.

She said: “I think they are… I’m sure they’ll be contingency planning. I wouldn’t expect them to do otherwise, but I hope they aren’t putting too much effort into it because I don’t think it will be needed.”

As the UK is a signatory to international waste treaties, including the Basel Convention and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development regulations, Coffey said that leaving the EU without a trade deal would allow the UK to “broadly” be able to carry on as before.

She added: “It would probably require the EU to change its own rules. We do from time-to-time receive hazardous waste from Ireland in particular. In order for Ireland to continue to be able to send that waste to England, they will need to change their own rules to accommodate that.

“Apart from that, we don’t need to change any of our regulations.”

But Coffey indicated that UK regulations could eventually diverge with the EU on end-of-waste criteria, in order to boost reuse.

She also reiterated her desire to move away from weight-based recycling measures.

The UK currently suffers from a lack of waste and recycling infrastructure. This makes us dependent on overseas countries to process and treat much of our waste materials. If a hard Brexit results in tariff and non-tariff barriers that raise the costs of exporting then we are concerned about the potential impacts, including for increased waste crime. The answer is for Defra to make us less dependent on other markets by putting in place the robust strategy we need to invest in new recycling and energy recovery facilities here in the UK.

Environmental Services Association executive director Jacob Hayler

Defra deputy director for waste and recycling, Chris Preston, told the committee that trading with non-EU companies that are part of the Basel Convention and the OECD would not be affected.

He said: “The World Trade Organisation (WTO) sets out a list of all the various tariffs that apply to the materials that might be exported. The maximum tariff is about 10%. Quite a few things don’t carry any tariff at all.”

Defra analysis shows that the range of tariffs on qualifying recyclate from the UK to EU member states range from 3 to 7%. Preston also listed some of the materials that would not have a tariff under WTO rules, including some metals, hard rubber and types of cloth.

Coffey also indicated that Defra’s was carefully considering reform of the packaging recovery note system, and was working with the business department on improving secondary markets for materials because it was currently “not working as well as it should to encourage recycling”.

She said: “I expect the industry is keenly awaiting our new resources and waste strategy, and that’s for our internal market.

“The direction is clear – we want to increase the amount of recycling, recovery and to have more careful management of our resources.”

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