Cardiff University Examines Impact Of Brexit On UK Waste Policy

Scenarios for the impact of Brexit on the UK’s waste policy have been outlined by Cardiff University academics.

Dr Richard Cowell and a team from the University’s School of Geography and Planning have considered what types of policy options might emerge for waste policy, post-Brexit and the factors that could affect them.

Looking at areas including legislation, territory and the drivers of waste policy goals, the researchers outline three potential scenarios for the future, following the UK’s exit from the EU: waste policy following the current EU direction; rethinking UK policy entirely (called diverse green shoots); and current waste policies stalling or regressing.

“A major fear among environmental organisations has been that Brexit will lead to a weakening of UK environmental policy to facilitate growth and competitiveness. But is this likely and by what combination of factors could it come about?”

Dr Richard Cowell said: “In few sectors are the potential impacts of Brexit as profound as in waste and resources, where 40 years of EU action have helped transform waste treatment in the UK from landfill-based disposal towards greater recycling and tighter environmental controls.

“A major fear among environmental organisations has been that Brexit will lead to a weakening of UK environmental policy to facilitate growth and competitiveness. But is this likely and by what combination of factors could it come about?

“Our paper aims to spark debate about the potential effects of Brexit on future policy directions, moving beyond ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ Brexit, to more considered reflection on the potential policy pathways arising from leaving the EU.

“While the scenarios we outline are not predictions, looking more closely at the waste sector alerts us to issues of wider relevance to the future evolution of UK environmental policy beyond Brexit.”

Weakening Regulation

In the first scenario identified by the researchers, UK waste policy continues to track that of the EU, which means Europe’s Circular Economy Package of new legislation, with its targets for reducing landfill and upping recycling to 70% by 2030. However, working against this scenario is that, once outside the EU, the UK would lose the scope to influence how EU policy develops.

In the ‘flat lining, fragmentation and regression’ scenario, waste policy after Brexit is shaped by a deregulatory governmental ethos and environmental performance ceases to improve.

Weakening of regulation may occur as a combination of limited government interest in waste, limited government capacity and resources and the loss of EU mechanisms for accountability and enforcement together lead to a flat-lining of performance. However, various factors might work against a downward slide. The desirability of trade in waste-based products brings with it the need to meet standards, whether that is with the EU or further afield.

In the third scenario – ‘Diverse green shoots’ – Brexit presents an opportunity to re-think UK policy and do something better, with high profile NGO campaigns targeting specific forms of waste to continue, as with plastic waste in marine environments.

Dr Cowell added: “These scenarios push us to confront important issues facing waste and resources policy, post-Brexit. There is a need to foster more careful thinking about the array of potential policy pathways for waste policy arising from leaving the EU, and the conditions that are likely to shape which pathways actually emerge.”

The full briefing report is available here


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