A House of Lords committee has heard that the waste crime problem on the Northern Ireland border with the Republic of Ireland could intensify following Brexit.
Lords were also warned that the UK’s waste trade with the EU was “not going to be frictionless”, and would possibly be subject to tariffs that could depress the market.
The issues were aired at an EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee session with a panel of industry experts to examine the impact of Brexit on the UK’s waste trade.
Steve Lee (pictured centre), an independent consultant representing the interests of the Chartered Institution for Wastes Management (CIWM) as a former chief executive, said policy differences between the UK and member state would be problematic.
“Gibraltar is totally reliant on Spain for its waste management. If we were on the outside of the EU, that could well cause problems,” he said.
“Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland I think are a much more difficult set of issues, especially if policy starts to diverge and we have taxation differences across the border and the influence that could have on waste crime – which is a bad enough issue as it is.
“I would beg this committee not to underestimate the importance of the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border.”
Lee’s plea was backed by Resource Association chief executive Ray Georgeson. He added that divergent regulatory regimes between the UK and EU could be a barrier to trade.
“Profit margins on per-tonne movement of waste are tight. Anything that gets in the way in terms of the new bureaucracy that will emerge outside of the customs union could certainly have a sluggish effect on trade.”
Mike Brown, managing director at Eunomia, also warned that if the UK were to leave the customs union, stricter border controls could lead to waste shipments being held up at ports. He said this could be a problem for refuse-derived fuel (RDF), which can have odour and other environmental problems if stored for too long.
But he added: “If we were to find ourselves with a very hard customs border, then the possibility of new taxes becomes easier. The idea of taxing plastics, for example, is something that the Government could consider if it wanted to.”
On trade, Unico van Kooten, European secretary of the Dutch Waste Association, said the UK was facing a hard exit from the EU single market.
“Dutch ports, harbours, transport sector, banks, insurers and producers are all working on contingency plans as we speak,” he said. “That does not sound like a frictionless trade agreement is going to come anywhere soon.
“We are truly talking about ‘mayday, mayday, mayday’. I don’t want anyone to suffer from Brexit.”
He added that under World Trade Organization (WTO) and EU rules which the UK is expected to follow after leaving the EU, a trade tariff could mean the UK falling back on landfill.
“WTO tariffs are going to be in place and it means a 6.5% additional cost have to be borne. I’m a little bit worried about that.
“The UK has gone a long way to depart from large-scale landfilling. But if we get into the situation of a cliff-edge scenario, then about 3.5 million tonnes of waste most probably has to be landfilled again in the UK.
“Also, traders could use the opportunity to go for outlets outside the European area, where there are trade tariffs of 0%, and that is not always good for the environment.”
According to Eunomia, RDF exports may not be subject to tariffs as it has a negative value – companies pay overseas clients to take it away.