Expressions of both fear and optimism have been expressed by senior figures in the waste and recycling industry this morning, following the UK’s referendum decision to leave the European Union,
“The referendum result will extend and intensify the uncertainty around both our industry and the UK more generally,” commented Jacob Haylor, executive director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA).
He added that the danger now is that the waste and recycling sector is placed at the bottom of the Government’s in-tray.
“It is therefore vital for us to make the case for the circular economy within the UK and to highlight the advantages of a strong and competitive resource efficient economy. Once the dust settles it will be absolutely critical for investment in our industry that the Government acts quickly to set out the terms of a UK exit and what it means for the waste sector,” said Haylor.
However, he also said that regardless of EU membership there is huge scope for the waste and recycling sector to do things better and for the UK to improve its resource efficiency.
“The public’s vote has been cast and, while there may be threats, we must turn it into an opportunity and press the Government for the long-term framework that the waste and recycling industry now needs more than ever,” concluded Haylor.
Steve Lee, chief executive officer of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management commented:
“The decision for the UK to leave the EU is not what most CIWM Members, or many environment sector professionals, have said they wanted. While it was conspicuously absent from the respective referendum campaigns, there is no hiding from the fact that EU membership has been a strong positive force for the quality of our environment and the associated benefits for our health, well being, jobs, skills, growth and general sustainability.
“Stepping out of the EU brings financial, policy, legal and performance uncertainty which may well threaten a slow-down or reversal of the improvements we have enjoyed in recent years. As sustainable resources and waste management professionals, as an Institution, and as an industry we must now work together to build on what has been achieved to date.
“This will require leadership, determination and an industry ready to work with Governments – of whatever flavour – to protect what we have and to drive for further improvement. More than ever now, we need forward looking strategies across the UK to support investment and performance in this sector.
“As far as this Institution is concerned, there has never been a more important time for our industry to work together and to use our body of knowledge and expertise to help influence and deliver a new environmental vision for our country.”
Wearing his other hat, as chief executive of Resources & Waste UK (R&WUK), a partnership between the CIWM and the ESA, Lee said:
“EU legislation has been a key driver behind the UK’s rapid progress on sustainable resource and waste management over the last two decades and the referendum outcome leaves our sector particularly exposed to the financial and policy uncertainty ahead.
“What isn’t uncertain, however, is the direction of travel; the imperative to move towards greater resource efficiency and security and to develop more circular economic models of resource consumption remains critical to the long term future of the UK. Our sector needs to keep its eyes on the prize and realise its potential as an industry that not only underpins sustainable economic growth, jobs and business competitiveness but also protects our environment and contributes to the health and wellbeing of our communities.
“This will be R&W UK’s job in the months to come; to work with all the necessary stakeholders and government to ensure that the policy and investment needs of our industry are recognised and that we have the right framework to deliver the maximum environmental and economic benefit for the UK in the future. We will initially be calling for an early meeting with government to discuss their plans and explore how the industry can contribute to the task ahead.”
Ray Georgeson chief executive of the Resource Association said: "The decision the people have made to leave the European Union will create uncertainties for many industries including our own. We made this clear during the referendum campaign but recognise that the public have made a decision about the UK's future in the EU.
"We must continue to advocate the power and value of the circular economy and ensure that our concerns about policy uncertainty are addressed. We will be looking for clear signals and reassurances from the Government that they recognise the potential and value of our industries and that they commit to a more resource efficient future, regardless of our future status in Europe."
David Palmer-Jones, CEO for SUEZ recycling and recovery in the UK, commented: "SUEZ respects the democratic will of the people and our focus remains with our policy of deriving the maximum value and energy from the waste Britain's households and businesses produce every day. While the UK renegotiates its EU membership for the years ahead there is a risk of a void at a national policy level.
“As we transition to a more resource efficient economy, something to which all UK devolved administrations aspire, the waste and resources sector continues to seek vision and leadership from Whitehall. EU membership for Britain has been a crucial and effective driver of environmental policy and legislation which has seen the United Kingdom transform from being the ‘dirty man of Europe’ to a solid environmental performer.
“Our industry has a very clear vision and understanding of what needs to be done to ensure that we continue to make environmental improvements with or without EU membership. The environmental services industry stands ready to maintain its work with UK policy-makers to ensure that we have a positive future in front of us, and that we build on the environmental gains achieved over the last two decades.
“We will be working closely with each local authority and with all businesses where policy commitment remains high in turning our waste into a resource."
Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth’s CEO, said: “The referendum may be over but many of the difficult debates are only just beginning.
“The environment must be at the heart of our negotiations with Europe and how we create a positive future for our country. We cannot let th1e UK return to the days of ‘the dirty man of Europe’. Protections for our birds and wildlife, our beaches and rivers, must not be sacrificed in the name of cutting away so-called EU ‘red tape’.
“The environment was rarely mentioned during the referendum but it must now move up the political agenda. With urgent issues like climate change, air pollution and destruction of the natural world already impacting this generation, not just the next, we don’t have time for the environment to take a back seat through years of negotiations."