UK should consider new 2025 recycling targets, claims EIC

The UK should consult on new recycling targets for 2025 to boost investor confidence in the waste sector, according to a new report from the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC).

The study, released today (21 February), explores the legislative impact of Brexit on waste and resource management, highlighting that the UK’s waste and resource industry has been “transformed” by European Union (EU) environmental legislation.

The EIC cites reduced landfill rates, increased recycling numbers and the growth of the circular economy as key benefits of EU regulation. The report suggests that Brexit could therefore have a “significant impact” on how the nation’s resources are sustainably managed in the future.

The organisation’s executive director Matthew Farrow said: “The complex layers of EU waste law established over 40 years have transformed waste management and recycling in the UK, helping us get from bottom of the league to mid-table. Post-Brexit, the Government must resist making significant changes to regulations as this will undermine what has been achieved.

“But there are areas where new thinking is required. It is not clear that the UK will meet the EU 2020 50% recycling target and the European Commission will no longer be able to sanction the UK for not achieving it.

“While the EU is considering a one-size-fits-all target for the remaining EU countries for 2030, the UK should consider setting a 2025 target that is ambitious but realistic in a UK context. Such a target, if set with industry and cross-party support, would provide an investment framework for the industry to drive UK progress towards a circular economy.”

Resource recommendations

While recent reports have shown that Wales and Scotland continue to succeed in improving waste strategy, England’s recycling rates have slowed significantly over the past three years, falling in 2015 for the first time in 14 years to 44.7%. With many criticising the “dysfunctional” nature of the UK’s waste management, the EIC report highlights several ways in which the issue could be addressed.

The EU’s Waste Framework (WDF) has attempted to minimise contamination with rules that certain waste materials should be collected separately from homes and businesses. But, according to the EIC, a lack of clarity over wording means that uncertainty exists over the operational meaning for commercial and household kerbside collections. Separate collections provisions should be replaced with a more pragmatic approach, focused on clear operational guidelines, the report states.

The paper also calls for a re-think on the tonnage-based EU waste targets to incorporate measures focused on wider environmental goals such as CO2 impacts. It suggests that the goals have been effective in driving action on recycling, but have often created incentives to focus recycling on heavier materials whether or not they are the highest environmental priority.

This comes after Resource Minister Therese Coffey said that, of all the elements of the EU’s Circular Economy Package, the UK Government is “less keen on” weight-based recycling targets, which she said can lead to material being recycled when it could rather be re-used.

Business productivity

The Government has decided that, at the point at which the UK leaves the EU, all EU legislation which has not already been transposed into UK law will be transferred to UK statute. Aspects of the Circular Economy Package contained in non-legally binding mechanisms would not apply to the UK, however.

Today’s EIC report recommends that the UK retains the majority of EU resource-efficiency related targets post-Brexit. Ecodesign regulations that emerge from the Package should be copied into British law, it says, in addition to the EU definition of waste which would avoid prolonged uncertainty. The report also calls for circular economy approaches to be developed under the new Industrial Strategy.

Indeed, last month’s Industrial Strategy green paper placed a strong emphasis on how energy costs can be reduced by increasing resource productivity. The paper highlighted specifically how “increased material efficiency across the whole supply chain deliver huge cost savings and improve the productivity of UK businesses”.

The Strategy blueprint was released just before an Aldersgate Group report which highlighted how the UK economy could swell by nearly £80bn if the country adopts resource-efficient business models by 2030.

George Ogleby

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