Brexit uncertainty following Parliament’s rejection of Theresa May’s proposed deal with the EU has, among much else, left the position unclear on shipments of waste between the UK and EU.
Transfrontier shipment notifications, customs, storage and landfill were discussed at a meeting in January between the RDF Industry Group and the Government during planning for a no-deal Brexit.
Industry concerns have centred on obstacles to exporting refuse-derived fuel (RDF) and fears that it may be stockpiled or even landfilled if it cannot be exported. Around 14% of residual waste is exported and in 2017 this amounted to some 3.7 million tonnes.
Industry figures said there had been no concrete plans made but “at least” the Government was listening to concerns.
Jakob Rindegren, Environmental Services Association recycling policy adviser, said: “We have been assured that the EU competent authorities will allow notifications to roll over after Brexit, which is good news. The concern, therefore, is not so much with the regulation as with temporary disruptions at ports. Delays and extra costs are of course unwelcome, but our members have put in place contingencies.
“Another concern is the risk of increased waste crime and abandoned sites, and we encourage local authorities and businesses to be extra vigilant and understand their duty of care.”
Before the meeting Defra said that, after 29 March, import/export licences will no longer be valid if there is no deal in place for shipments of waste to the remaining 27 EU member states, nor will licences issued by the EU for shipments to the UK. But exporters have now been assured that existing transfrontier shipment notifications will continue in most EU authorities.
A Government advice notice said it would seek to maintain the continuity of waste shipments between the UK and the EU in the event of a no-deal. Defra said there will be no changes to waste exports for recycling in both directions which are eligible to be shipped under the Green Control procedure.
Red Tape Burden Fear
A presidential report by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management called RDF Trading In A Modern World said: ”For the UK, the Brexit process nevertheless raises the possibility that the practice of exporting RDF will become less economic.
“While it is likely that tariffs would be waived under EU import rules, an onerous customs regime would add to transport times and administrative burdens.
“The Government can help to limit these impacts by pressing for continuing free movement of RDF, regardless of the ultimate outcome of Brexit negotiations.”
The UK will remain a party to the Basel Convention and a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and so, in the event of no-deal Brexit, would be treated the same as other OECD countries under the customs guidelines.
There is an OECD control framework for the transboundary movement of waste between member countries for energy recovery and recycling. Non-member countries exporting waste to the EU for disposal must submit a ‘duly reasoned request’, explaining why they lack and cannot reasonably acquire the appropriate disposal facilities.
The Basel Convention controls international shipments of waste through a process of prior written consent. Countries exporting hazardous waste must verify that destinations are content to accept the proposed shipment and that the waste can be managed there in an environmentally sound manner.
The EU Waste Shipment Regulation implements both the Basel Convention and OECD rules, and prohibits the shipment of waste for landfill or incineration to countries outside the EU as well as to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
According to Defra’s official guidance, approvals to ship notified waste between the UK and EU that extend beyond 29 March 2019 would be subject to a reapproval process. If the UK were simply treated like an OECD country under no-deal, the Government would have to make a duly reasoned request to the relevant EU authority before a notification to export could be submitted by a UK exporter.
The Government said: “In most cases the export of UK waste for disposal is already prohibited so the impact of this additional step is likely to be significant.”
There would be no changes to the procedure for exports of waste for recycling. Under a no-deal scenario, EU states would be prohibited from exporting waste for disposal, or exporting mixed municipal waste for recovery, to the UK.
Steve Burton, director of RDF business Andusia, said: “There appears to be no strategy in place to avoid interruption to the industry. It is our view that RDF exports will continue to play a valuable and crucial role in diverting waste from landfill, but the lack of clarity in border activities is creating uncertainty and, sadly, scare-mongering.”
Taking over from the EU
In a separate Brexit-related move, environment secretary Michael Gove has launched draft legislation to set up an independent environmental watchdog which will “hold the Government and public bodies to account” after the UK leaves the EU, including scrutinising new targets on waste.
An Office for Environmental Protection would uphold environmental legislation at present enforced by the EU. Gove said the draft legislation placed “our environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of Government”.
He added: “It places our 25-year environment plan on a statutory footing. We will explore options for strong targets to improve our environment, and provisions on air quality, waste and water resource management, and restoring nature.”