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Defra responds to Brexit 'putrefying waste' claim

Defra has denied that leaked Environment Agency (EA) emails show potential crisis levels of stockpiled waste if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

A story on the front page of some editions of the Guardian newspaper on Saturday said the EA was preparing to deal with “putrefying stockpiles” of rubbish if exports of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) are affected, along with animal slurry if livestock exports are curtailed.

The newspaper quoted an EA email seeking staff to volunteer for emergency duties, saying: “If there is a no-deal scenario, the current export of waste may cease for a period. This could result in stockpiled waste which causes licence breaches.

“Odours will obviously be an issue as the stockpiled waste putrefies and there may be runoff of leachates, causing secondary pollution.”

It added: “It will quickly escalate into a political [issue] because the operators will state that they have no means to move the waste.”

The Guardian said waste export licences will “become invalid overnight” in the case of no-deal, but failed to report on assurances issued to the RDF Export Group earlier this year that the majority of transfrontier waste shipment notifications will be allowed to continue by EU-competent authorities.

Stuart Hayward-Higham, who leads Brexit planning for Suez, told the Guardian that the EA’s planning was sensible: “It is them just putting things in place in case they need them.”

He added: “We start from a common point – they [in the EU] would like our material and we would like to send them our material. We are looking at more difficult management rather than catastrophe. Obviously, port congestion will be an issue depending on the version of Brexit.”

MRW reported last week that industry figures had cast doubt on environment secretary Michael Gove’s claim that waste – mainly RDF – could be stockpiled near to ports if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Defra said in a statement on its blog: “There is already a process in place to ensure the continuity of notified waste shipments in the case of a no-deal Brexit, which was set out by the European Commission in November. We have received agreement to roll over 98% of existing consents for waste exports to the EU from the UK, agreeing 545 out of the 556 current approvals.

“We expect to reach agreement on the outstanding approvals. We are confident that a no-deal Brexit will not have a significant impact on the continued export of the UK’s notified waste shipments that have already been agreed.”

Comment: the Environmental Services Association

”The impact of a no deal Brexit for waste shipments depends on the length of any delays and our members will work hard to ensure as much as possible is recycled and recovered. Recyclable materials, the vast majority of which go to destinations other than the EU, will continue to be exported even under a no-deal scenario.

”For the circa 3 million tonnes of non-recyclable wastes currently exported to other EU Member States, the industry and the Government have worked hard to ensure that the necessary regulations will be in place to maintain cross-border flows.

”There may be some short-term disruption at ports, in which case some relatively small quantities of non-recyclable waste may have to go to UK landfills, rather than continental energy recovery facilities.

“This is due to a lack of spare energy from waste capacity in the UK. In the longer term, the industry is investing to increase capacity. However, new energy from waste plants have significant lead-in times and so will not be in place if there were short term disruption caused by a no-deal.”

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