According to a new report, A new direction for UK resource strategy after Brexit, published today (4 December) by the think tank Green Alliance, without “ambitious new recycling targets”, progress could slip on recycling provision and lead to the reopening of landfills.
The EU’s current recycling targets expire in 2020, and there is no promise to replace them in the UK, it says.
The Green Alliance says this is not what people want, with 93% of people in the UK saying recycling is “personally important to them”.
The report’s findings also suggest Brexit could see an increase in the use of dangerous chemicals, require millions more animal toxicity tests and “saddle people in the UK with shoddy products”.
Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance – “The resource policies we choose after Brexit will have a real effect on people’s lives. We’re at a crossroads – we can either improve our protections and use of resources or revert to simple waste management.”
The study was conducted on behalf of the business group, the Circular Economy Task Force, and examines environmental challenges facing the government from Brexit and assesses the risks.
The government has committed to developing a resources strategy for England “that looks ahead to opportunities outside the EU”.
Green Alliance’s report sets out recommendations for the new strategy that would avoid risks created by Brexit, including negotiating to stay in REACH (the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals), continuing to co-operate on EU ecodesign standards and adopting ambitious new targets for recycling and waste minimisation.
Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said: “The resource policies we choose after Brexit will have a real effect on people’s lives. We’re at a crossroads – we can either improve our protections and use of resources or revert to simple waste management. The wrong decisions could harm our environment, businesses and citizens.
“But people didn’t vote to increase animal testing or to be exposed to more dangerous chemicals and shoddy products. Defra’s renewed strategy on resources is the opportunity to take the right path towards a more resource efficient future instead.”
Dr Colin Church, CEO of CIWM and chair of the Circular Economy Task Force, said: “In the EU or out, the UK is part of a global market where European standards on recycling, products and chemicals have set the benchmark for keeping us and our environment safe and healthy. This is something recognised by the vast majority of people.
“Clearly, we need to keep to those standards and protections, if not better them.”
Among its recommendations, the report says government needs to:
- Manage divergence from existing EU waste and resource governance: Differing environmental standards create ‘non-tariff barriers’ and competitive distortions that harm trading arrangements. It will be necessary to retain or recreate the governance institutions ensuring adherence to legislation, including laws on waste, recycling, chemicals and product standards, and to guarantee sufficient equivalence so the UK can continue trading freely with the EU.
- Maintain waste policy principles and co-operate on evolving regulations: Waste rules, guided by underlying principles, such as polluter pays and the precautionary principle, exist to prevent environmental hazards, including illegal waste burning, dumping in rivers and fly-tipping.
- The regulations and accompanying case law are highly complex and must continually evolve to incorporate technological progress, address new environmental risks and maintain trade equivalence. The UK should keep the guiding principles in law and apply existing EU case law on waste. It should continue to co-operate with other European countries on improvements, for example via innovative cross border forums like the North Sea Resources Roundabout.
- New targets, including for recycling, that increase resource efficiency and productivity: Polling shows that 94% of people in the UK want to recycle. The UK’s current recycling targets only go up to 2020. Failing to set further targets would undermine investment in recycling, and reduce economic and environmental gains.
- As the UK negotiates Brexit, it should adopt the same targets as the EU for 2030 and act on its own evaluation that existing targets could be improved. Goals should also be set for minimisation, commercial and industrial waste and resource productivity.
- Mandatory food waste collections from households and businesses: The government’s Clean growth strategy identifies waste policy as a major contributor to achieving UK carbon budgets, with food waste alone contributing more than 4% of UK emissions. It has committed to send no food waste to landfill by 2030. To achieve this, the government should mandate separate food waste collections for treatment through anaerobic digestion. This would ensure that this carbon intensive waste stream is minimised and treated in a way that reduces emissions while producing energy and an alternative to chemical fertilisers.
- Extended producer responsibility, accounting for the full lifecycle of products: Producers, who control product and packaging design, should be made responsible for the environmental costs associated with the whole lifecycle of their products through extended producer responsibility (EPR).
- Packaging producers, for instance, cover only 10% of the costs they impose on the waste and recycling system. The UK should institute a producer funded deposit return scheme for single use beverage containers, and reform other packaging and product rules to make polluters pay more.