Pollution drops but waste sector poses challenge for EA

The last ten years of environmental regulation have seen dramatic falls in pollution and a cut in the amount of waste produced - but there is still a lot of work to do.

Publishing the Environment Agency’s tenth Spotlight on Business report, acting chief executive Paul Leinster said the next ten years held a number of challenges for the agency as it faced up to problems such as climate change and the poorly performing waste sector.

Among the environmental success stories from the last ten years are improved air quality. Sulphur oxides have fallen by 69%, PM10 particles by 53% and nitrogen oxides by 12%.

Another highlight was the 14% cut in the amount of waste being produced, and a 4% drop in greenhouse gas releases.

Since 2000, the number of serious pollution incidents has almost halved from 884 to 462.

Last year, Environment Agency prosecutions resulted in the courts handing out almost £3m in fines, as well as almost 8 years behind bars and more than 170 days of community service.

However, the report revealed the waste industry is lagging behind other sectors with 43% of sites receiving D and E performance ratings – the two lowest ratings in the scale.

Mr Leinster told edie that the Environment Agency needed to help the sector by making its guidance simpler and more intuitive.

“I think that the waste industry is a very large and diverse group of businesses,” he said. “There are a lot of small businesses and they haven’t been used to this type of regulation. We need to be helping them to improve their performance.”

The report outlines a number of future challenges for the agency including adaptation to climate change, continuing to limit pollution – particularly nutrient pollution from detergents and fertilisers – tackling non-compliance, and working with smaller businesses.

“There will be new challenges, and we don’t necessarily know what these will be,” Mr Leinster told edie.

“But we still have some of these legacy issues to deal with. How do we get performance better? Only 30% of the sites we regulate get an A-class rating. We need to improve that.”

Earlier this month, Mr Leinster spoke to edie about the challenges of his new role. You can hear what he said by watching the video below.

Kate Martin

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