This is not an article about Brexit – for or against. Instead, it’s thoughts on how our country’s environmental performance will stay on track after we formally leave. And what needs to happen to enable us to achieve our goals. After all, there’s more than our patriotic pride at stake here.
Earlier this year the UK Government committed to transfer the majority of the EU’s Circular Economy Package (CEP) into UK law. This means that once we’ve left Europe we’ll continue to work towards:
· 65% of municipal waste recycled by 2035
· 10% limit on municipal waste going to landfill by 2035
· A ban on separately collected waste going to landfill or incineration
· Restrictions on materials that can go to landfill or incineration
All sounds great. But the important thing is how we make this happen.
Many are calling for interim targets which sounds like a sensible idea. Then we’re all working at the same pace to achieve the end goal. Independent think tank and charity Green Alliance are pushing for targets on recycling of 55% by 2025 and 60% by 2030. One thing’s for sure, ongoing momentum is needed.
Despite previous reassurances that the UK would not allow environmental standards to fall post-Brexit, successive Environment Secretaries have refused to rule out diverging from EU environmental laws. And the problem with this? Well, given the size of the EU market, compliance with their standards (which may be over and above ours) is likely to be a necessity for many businesses.
May sound like a cliché, but we need to work together to make this happen. Yes, recycling is important, but it’s just part of the picture. In a closed-loop system targets are also needed for the complete material cycle – from resource efficiency at the start to reducing waste at the end. A stewardship approach involving product designers, innovators, manufacturers, regulators and policymakers, along with waste material handlers and recyclers is needed.
Policies & support
Now more than ever we need the right policies to enable us to deliver the required improvements. And we’re not just talking wide aspirational targets. More measures such as those outlined in the Environment Bill for a deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers and an Extended Producer Responsibility system for those in industry producing hard to recycle packaging. Success will be in the detail – and the support too. All elements of the material cycle would no doubt be encouraged by financial and practical support and incentives. However, there appears to be a preference for the stick rather than the carrot, with talk of a tax being introduced for businesses producing or importing plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled content.
The Government states that bringing the CEP into UK law demonstrates our commitment to be a world leader in environmental legislation and that we aim to be a resource-efficient, high recycling nation. However, it’s also well known that sustainability is a policy area in which the EU is a leading developer of new regulation. Will the UK’s ‘Resources and Waste Strategy’ stand up against the Commission’s ‘Inception Impact Assessment Roadmap’? Fancy titles aside who cares who’s got the best plan really? The aim for us all is to help save the world in the best way we can.
Brexit is unlikely to lead to an overnight change in direction of UK legislation for promotion of a circular economy. However what we must do is keep going, with our targets held up high and work together to lead the way for a more sustainable future.