The long-awaited Environment Bill is included in the legislative programme outlined in today’s Queen’s Speech.
It will be used to create a new Office for Environmental Protection – intended to take over environmental regulation now exercised at EU level and to codify a comprehensive framework for environmental legally binding targets.
Producer responsibility will be extended under the Bill to ”ensure a consistent approach to recycling and introduce deposit return schemes”, while charges will be introduced for specified single-use plastic items.
The Bill will contain measures to minimise waste, promote resource efficiency and encourage moves towards a circular economy, including what a Government briefing called “a consistent approach to recycling”.
Prime minister Boris Johnson indicated last month that the Bill could include a ban on exporting some materials for recycling.
Defra said the Office for Environmental Protection would be an independent watchdog “with the teeth to hold government and other public bodies to account”.
It would scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against public authorities, if necessary.
Environment secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Our natural environment is a vital shared resource and the need to act to secure it for generations to come is clear.
“That’s why our landmark Environment Bill leads a green transformation that will help our country to thrive. It positions the UK as a world leader on improving air quality, environmental biodiversity, a more circular economy, and managing our precious water resources in a changing climate.”
Most of the Bill would apply to England, but about half its provisions cover non-devolved matters and apply to the rest of the UK.
In industry reaction, the Environmental Services Association’s (ESA) executive director Jacob Hayler said: “If implemented correctly, a new Environmental Bill could unlock billions in new investment in the UK by the environmental services sector.”
He added: “Under the resources and waste strategy, major reforms are coming which will have a profound impact on producers and the way things are made; how we collect materials when they are discarded; how we treat those materials; and how waste services are funded.
“This will require major change and investment from the environmental services sector. The Environment Bill must provide the new legislative framework which will underpin this next phase of investment.”
Hayler said that ESA members had committed to investing £10bn in the UK during the next decade, given the right policy framework, and the Bill could help to protect this investment “by levelling the playing field and providing the Government with new powers to tackle waste crime”.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Suez Recycling and Recovery UK, said: “Plans under the Environment Bill to deal with plastic waste and pollution are to be commended, but these must come hand-in-hand with radical societal reform of our consumption and resource use.
“Producer responsibility schemes, as envisaged by the Government, are an essential tool to ensure we move, as a nation, from a throwaway society to a reuse and recycle-based economy that gives new lives to products we consume – which must go with efforts to minimise our overall consumption of the planet’s finite resources.
“An ad hoc, piecemeal, approach to meeting society’s collective challenge to consume fewer virgin materials and to recycle more simply will not deliver the systemic changes needed to deliver on the praiseworthy ambitions of the Environment Act.”
Biffa said it welcomed measures related to waste and plastics in the Bill but was disappointed “at the lack of ambition in the Government’s present plans”.
It said there should be a ban on the export of waste plastics for recycling overseas to restore public confidence in recycling, and that ‘problem’ materials such as black plastics and bio-plastics should be phased out.
Pat Jennings, head of policy, knowledge and external affairs at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, said: “The Bill ensures that key environmental principles that have underpinned the legislatory framework for the resources and sector for over two decades – including the polluter pays principle and the precautionary principle – sit at the heart of decision making across government in the future and commits to the development of legally binding environmental targets.
“It also lays the foundations for a new and robust governance framework through the OEP to uphold environmental and climate change law and policy commitments after EU exit.”
Pressure group Business in the Community said: ”“Business plans must include action to eliminate waste.”