Andrew Sawers explains that since the surprise result of the Brexit vote, Britain has faced increasing uncertainty on trade deals and the importing and exporting of goods, with this being no different in the waste sector.
Industry figures warned that the UK could face having to dump 10,000 tonnes more waste every day into its already overloaded landfill sites if a no-deal or hard Brexit prevents the export of waste into the EU.
Current UK legislation around waste treatment and disposal is based around EU regulations.
In the short term there will be no changes, however once the UK leave the EU this legislation could be changed, and this will result in divergence. This could make it harder to export and damage the widespread practice of exporting non-recyclable waste to generate waste in other EU nations.
International trade in Waste is regulated under rules set out by the OECD and is known as the Basel convention, which mirrors EU rules. As such trade should be possible once the UK exits Europe, however we will be dealing on the same terms as every other “third country” in the world as appose to being part of the EU.
A ‘No Deal’ Brexit
There is great uncertainty at the moment around the implication of a No deal Brexit, as no one knows what problems we are likely to face but I foresee two aspects of potential disruption caused by a no-deal Brexit.
Under a no-deal scenario there is no commitment required under EU law to allow existing Notifications for waste movement beyond 29th March 2019.
The EU commission have delegated this responsibility to the individual competent authorities of the remaining EU 27 countries and their provinces. There is currently confirmation from some of these that existing notification will be valid beyond the 29th March if the UK exits without a deal.
Relying on Europe to Export
It was made clear by the Secretary of State for the Environment during questioning by the Brexit select committee that the UK currently does not have the treatment capacity in the UK to deal with the volume of waste we produce, and that once we leave the EU we will still have to Export waste.
If costs rise as a result this may stimulate more investment in the sector. However, planning restriction and rigorous environmental legislation makes the costs for such facilities unattractive to such investment. Whether or not the EU remains the destination of choice for waste from the UK market forces will decide.
There is a likely need for political will along with significant government funding or incentives if the UK is going to move to become self-sufficient in relation our waste treatment and disposal.
There is already significant trade in Waste beyond the EU and I think this will likely grow once the UK leaves the EU. From a personal point of view, I think it would be much better for the environment if we see investment in the UK to deal with our waste at source rather than relying on other countries to deal with our waste as for far too many years, the UK has relied on landfill.
Further investment in technology to use waste as a resource will also reduce our current reliance on other countries to deal with our waste, whilst enabling us to recover the resource from it. Ultimately, if Brexit turns out to be an eventuality, this should be seen as an opportunity for the UK to develop its own waste strategies.
Andrew Sawers, Director of hazardous waste management and recycling firm Chloros Environmental.