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Leaving the EU would sideline recycling

Love or hate politics, there can be no denying the enormity of conversation surrounding the UK’s position in Europe.

But this mass of chatter will surely be nothing compared with the scale of discussion that will come following the result. For many, the decision was clear-cut before the pros and cons began to be aired, whereas others have continued to openly express their confusion about what Brexit would really mean for the country.

Such puzzlement is unsurprising. There are many factors to consider, with the outcome of the decision inevitably set to affect the economy, jobs, legislation, culture, global trade and our standard of living, one way or another. And you do not have to look too far before you uncover opinions that seem to conflict about the likely impact that Brexit would cause.

But what about the waste and recycling sector – what change could we expect?

We polled visitors to our website last month to survey opinions in the wider market, not just our team. We posed three statements and, when asked to choose which they most agreed with, our participants showed relatively strong solidarity. 67% said they think an exit would have a potentially negative impact on the waste and recycling industry; 22% thought an exit would strengthen our industry’s position; and 11% admitted they did not think the industry would experience any change. Interestingly, while this final view attracted the least votes, the opinion is in fact one I’ve heard in other business sectors.

However, I very much agree with the majority here, as does Untha UK’s managing director Marcus Brew. In fact, regular viewers of the BBC Breakfast Show may have seen Marcus on the famous red couch last month when he was interviewed on this very subject.

Our viewpoint is perhaps not a shock. On a personal and perhaps selfish level, we are part of a global business with a strong presence in Europe. We’ve worked hard to create a number of jobs throughout our operation and will naturally do our utmost to protect them. The successful trade of goods and services throughout the continent is key to this.

On a wider economic level, we are concerned about the risk to GDP which could represent a loss of billions. We have experienced such turbulence in recent times that surely we should seek to minimise any further disruption that Brexit could inevitably cause? We need to maintain our focus and make the most of the desire for positive change that some of our neighbouring member states have also expressed.

In terms of the likely impact of Brexit on waste and recycling, I strongly dispute many claims from industry thinkers who believe we will see no change.

You only have to look at the cross-part Parliamentary report, widely cited in the press last month, to see why. The All-Party Parliamentary Environment Group document reinforced my fears of uncertainty and disruption, while indicating that the UK’s environmental policy could be adversely affected.

EU Directives have given the UK the impetus to work towards a more sustainable future, and I worry that environmental commitments will be sidelined – if not shelved altogether – if we are no longer driven by international obligations and targets. While there are some leading lights in the world of UK politics, those with true environmental ambition are few and far between. I don’t think we would have seen the same level of landfill progress, for example, if we hadn’t been driven by the Landfill Directive. We undoubtedly would not have seen as much investment in recycling, renewable technologies and alternative fuel production. And goodness knows what will happen to the circular economy without EU Directives.

In environmental terms, we still lag behind some of our neighbours such as Denmark and Austria, so I think we have more to gain as a unified ‘community’ rather than a disparate nation. I’m also worried to read that there has been little planning from Defra for the exit eventuality.

On an individual level, we all have a say, and the importance of that vote on 23 June should not be underestimated. That said, whatever the outcome, we must try to remain focused. I believe we are a business community equipped with an in-built robustness to get through murky times. While we would rather things sometimes be a little more straightforward and certain, we won’t have a choice but to get on and concentrate on what we do best.

Chris Oldfield is chairman of Untha UK

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