In the waste sector we remain undeniably concerned about Brexit, especially our ability to recruit and to export materials between the UK and Europe. Yet we must be positive and focus on the potential benefits of our impending exit.
We should be looking to create a ‘Bespoke for Britain’ framework for waste as part of Michael Gove’s commitment to a ‘Green Brexit’. This must work for the consumer and benefit the economy. If we get it right, a new approach to the way we recycle and extract energy from waste could substantially reduce costs for businesses and households.
The European Commission’s plans for waste will place additional and arguably unnecessary costs on the UK. Policy Exchange wrote an insightful report earlier this year showing that the targets in the Circular Economy package, such as increasing municipal recycling to 65% by 2030, are being pursued for their own sake rather than a specified outcome, and would cost British businesses and households around an extra £2bn. In the UK, we’re not even on track to make the current recycling target of 50% by 2020. It is a classic case of one-size-fits-all policy-making.
Policy Exchange’s report rightly argued that UK waste policy should shift to promote resource productivity and improve competitiveness. We know the economics of recycling have deteriorated in recent years due to the fall in commodity prices since the financial crisis. To continue making progress, the business case for recycling needs to stack up.
“It if we get it right, a new approach to the way we recycle and extract energy from waste could substantially reduce costs for businesses and households.”
Politicians should take note, because the public care deeply about this issue. Viridor published its annual UK Recycling Index in September, a survey of 1,500 people. It showed that eight out of 10 see waste for what it is: a valuable resource that can be used to make new things. At the same time, people are increasingly confused and frustrated by the myriad collection systems across the country.
The government must seize the mantle and define a bold new post-Brexit policy framework as part of its Industrial Strategy. This would give businesses the confidence to invest in the next generation of vital infrastructure and exploit the export potential of recycled commodities.
This is about more than the waste sector – it is about delivering long-term investment and building a more prosperous UK.
Sarah Heald is the director of corporate affairs & investor relations at Pennon (parent company of Viridor)