Brexit could give the waste sector the coherent, long-term framework it desperately needs
With the appointment of Michael Gove as the new Secretary of State at Defra, we now have an opportunity to determine the future success of the waste sector.
As many within our sector will know, for a long time now UK waste policy has been largely ignored – in no small part because the majority of waste and recycling directives are borne out of Brussels. Historically, Defra has also been seen as one of the weakest departments in Government. However, the reality is that the department has a major role to play, both in the Brexit negotiations and in preparing for life outside of the EU.
Although the road ahead is no clearer than it was a year ago, what we do know is that Brexit gives us an opportunity to have a frank discussion about the direction of our domestic waste policy. More broadly, what is needed is a roots-and-branch review of how our industry operates.
A report published by Policy Exchange has, for the first time, revealed the economic potential of the waste sector in the UK. ‘Going Round in Circles’ highlights a number of significant shortcomings in the EU’s current approach to waste, including unclear and muddled objectives, a failure to reflect economic fundamentals (such as plummeting commodity prices), and a utilisation of poor data and definitions which is making it difficult to develop effective policies.
Most strikingly, the research reveals that continuing to implement EU waste policies post-Brexit would cost British businesses and households an additional £2bn over the next two decades. Moreover, the UK’s lack of investment in the Energy from Waste (EfW) sector has meant that a burgeoning market for companies exporting residual waste overseas, where it is burned to produce energy, has emerged. This has cost the UK over £900m in gate fees since 2011 (including £280m in 2016 alone), which is both counter-intuitive and unsustainable.
With investment, the UK can start to re-coup these losses, especially in a post-Brexit economic climate, where the UK has the ability and licence to develop its own home-grown solutions to resource inefficiency. In particular, increased investment in would be welcomed. It acts as a cost-effective, scientific and innovative treatment process which creates a utility of our waste, boosting resource productivity and overall economic performance.
There has been some recognition of the potential for resource productivity at a policy level, not least in the former Government’s burgeoning Industrial Strategy. However, in order to make this a reality, the UK needs to urgently prioritise investment in its own waste infrastructure.
Developing the UK’s capability in this regard would ensure we remain globally competitive, and help realise the Government’s goal of a truly ‘Global Britain’. We look forward to tacking these challenges with the new Secretary of State.
Paul Taylor is chief executive of FCC Environment
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