Industry figures have shared contrasting opinions on Europe’s influence on UK recycling policy, as the nation prepares to vote on whether to stay in the EU.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced a 23 June referendum after concluding his negotiations in Brussels on 20 February, since when many of his cabinet members have declared their positions.
Now the Resource Association (RA) and the Environmental Services Association (ESA) have both said EU membership has been beneficial while waste management firm Grundon suggested it has held back UK policy.
RA chief executive Ray Georgeson (pictured) said Cameron’s renegotiated deal did not change the debate the industry “now needs to have”.
Georgeson admitted that UK policy drivers such as landfill reduction and increased recycling could continue if the country were to exit, but said they were all influenced by EU waste legislation.
“This has generated investment, employment and a much bigger industry over the last thirty years. The question is, why would we put that at risk?
“Influencing from within as a leading economy and country within the EU is the right way to continue with a long term plan towards a circular economy (CE).
“Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current CE package and indeed the UK Government’s confused and opaque ambivalence about the proposed legislation, we believe our long term interests are better served by remaining in the EU and influencing policy from the inside.”
Grundon deputy chairman Neil Grundon (pictured) said EU membership had made a positive impact on UK environmental policy overall but progress had been slow.
“Given that the landfill directive was back in 2001 and we’ve effectively waited 15 years for the next piece of major legislation on the CE, you also have to ask yourself if the UK government could have made quicker progress on its own,” he said.
He said waste management markets in the EU were much more protected than in the UK stifling competition.
“Largely speaking, UK waste operators haven’t been able to make inroads into the European market and I can’t really see that changing, whatever the result of the referendum.”
ESA executive director, Jacob Hayler agreed that the influence of EU environmental legislation had been positive and said the UK Government would face a challenge to replace this if it were to exit.
“Whether the UK should remain in the EU from our sector’s perspective will largely depend upon what would replace the long-term policy framework established in Brussels,” he said.
“Industry investment critically depends on certainty, a degree of which at least is provided by EU legislation.
“If the UK chooses to go it alone then it will be vital for the UK Government to put in place a long-term strategic vision for waste and resources that supports jobs and investment whilst boosting recycling and recovery.”
Manufacturers have also backed staying in the EU, with 60% of trade association EEF’s members saying they wished to remain.
Defra secretary Liz Truss, energy secretary Amber Rudd, local government secretary Greg Clark have all announced they would back the UK staying in.
Business secretary Sajid Javid took the same stance but “with a heavy heart and no enthusiasm”, saying he wished the country had never joined the EU and would not be concerned if the UK voted to leave.
“I have no doubt that, after leaving, Britain would be able to secure trade agreements not just with the EU, but with many others too,” he said in his Daily Mail column.
Meanwhile, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who announced he will be voting for the UK to leave, was criticised for wrongly claiming that EU laws prevented the UK from recycling teabags.
Suez, Viridor and CIWM chief executive Steve Lee all backed the UK’s membership before Cameron’s announcement, warning of a potential void in policy without EU influence.
Lee said uncertainty over the implications of an exit from the EU made it difficult to discuss the topic and called on Defra to provide some details on possible effects for the industry.
While not prepared to comment at this stage, FCC Environment said in 2014: “The overwhelmingly positive effect that EU membership has had on UK waste policy makes bailing out of Europe a daunting prospect.”