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Talks but no firm circular economy position from Defra

Defra has said it is still deciding on its negotiating position on the EU circular economy (CE) proposals, with some stakeholders noting progress on incinerator bottom ash and extended producer responsibility.

The department held a meeting with industry figures in London on 15 July, amid the Government’s reshuffle of ministers. Due to the circumstances, including the UK’s decision to leave the EU, many attendees had expected the meeting to be cancelled.

However, it did go ahead with Defra telling MRW it was still “hashing out ideas”.

MRW understands it discussed backing the inclusion of incinerator bottom ash minerals as ‘recycling’ which could boost England’s flat-lining recycling rate to help the UK achieve its 50% EU target by 2020. Other issues included:

  • inclusion of a quantity criterion in the definition of municipal waste, to avoid too much trade waste being included
  • minimum EU rules on extended producer responsibility, although Defra has concerns at the prescriptive nature of the package’s proposals

Some attendees understood these suggestions to be an indication of Defra’s positions but others were less sure and a department spokesperson told MRW they were not concrete.

Defra said: “The negotiations in the EU are at an early stage, so we work with stakeholders to get insight from them on how the ideas raised by the member states will have an effect on the UK.

“We are just hashing out ideas at the moment and seeing how they will affect different member states, in our case the UK. Until we have got that clearer idea, we won’t have a firmer position.”

The CE package is currently being discussed in the European Parliament Environment Committee, which is due to vote on its amendments in November, after the initial proposals were put forward by the EU Commission last December.

Until the end of 2016, the Slovakian Presidency will hold two EU Council working party meetings on the package every month and will present a progress report in December to environment ministers.

It is possible a common Council position will be decided in this time but negotiations with the Parliament are likely to continue next year during the Maltese presidency.

Following the referendum vote to leave the EU, Defra has insisted it will continue to engage with CE negotiations until the UK has completed its exit.

But it is unclear how much of the proposals will be mirrored by UK laws outside the EU and some in the industry have questioned the strength of the country’s voice in Europe now it has decided to leave.

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