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Loss of free trade post-Brexit 'would be detrimental'

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) and its Dutch counterpart the DWMA have released a joint statement warning that unnecessary trade barriers and tariffs on trade in waste materials between the UK and the EU would be damaging for both parties and must be avoided after Brexit.

Both organisations, which represent waste and resource management businesses, believe the UK and EU “should capitalise on the potential for neighbouring countries to continue to work closely together towards a low-carbon economy”.

A statement signed by Jacob Hayler, ESA executive director, and Dick Hoogendoorn, DWMA managing director, said: “If the UK’s exit from the EU was to result in the loss of free trade in waste materials, this would have significant adverse economic and environmental consequences for the UK and other European countries.

”In particular, the UK would face significant problems in maintaining its existing recycling rates, let alone increasing them further.

“The UK would also see a worsening of the capacity shortfall it already faces in dealing with its non-recyclable waste. Landfill sites might have to be reopened, and it would be very difficult for the UK to find an additional 3.5 million tonnes of capacity quickly – the equivalent of about 10 additional energy-from-waste plants.

“From the perspective of Dutch and other west European operators, Brexit could lead to a reduction in waste streams in their installations and therefore a decrease in the production of sustainable raw materials and renewable energy. The overall environmental performance of the UK and the EU combined would go down.”

Hayler added: “The ESA sees Brexit as an opportunity for the UK to further develop its domestic treatment capacity for both recyclable and residual waste, and we hope that Defra’s resources and waste strategy will contain concrete measures for making this a reality. But at the same time we should not lose sight of the fact that – for recyclable material in particular – self-sufficiency is a long way off.”

Hoogendoorn added: “Dutch waste companies can help with the treatment of waste for recycling and recovery from other European countries until they have developed sufficient capacity. Nations are becoming increasingly interdependent concerning the sound treatment of waste. This counts for almost all countries within Europe.”

The two organisations highlighted that:

  • Each year around three million tonnes of recyclable material are exported from the UK to other EU countries, worth more than £900m.
  • The UK also exports around 3.5 million tonnes of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) to EU countries for energy recovery, at a cost of some £320m.
  • The UK does not have enough domestic capacity to reprocess all of the recyclable materials it collects into new products and materials. It makes good economic and environmental sense to export these materials to be recycled elsewhere.
  • In addition, the UK currently does not have enough facilities in place for recovering energy from its non-recyclable waste and recycling residues, while UK landfill capacity is rapidly falling. Paying other EU countries to import RDF from the UK to convert into energy in their countries makes economic and environmental sense, as a temporary measure until UK treatment capacity is built. 

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