Waste policy: Great expectations for 2015

A recent paper published by FCC into the environmental positions of the main political parties suggests that regardless of the political landscape after May, there will be more of the same with little appetite for immediate change. It seems clear that the economy will be the overriding driver over the next 12 months on both a UK and a European Government level, argues director at 360 Environmental Phil Conran.

So what can we expect over the next 12 months that might have a significant short term impact?

January 1 heralds the start of the separate collection requirement dictated by the EU Waste Framework Directive. But a basic flaw in the regulations means that whilst collectors have to collect separately, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, C&I waste producers don’t have to separate for collection.

Wales intends to address this anomaly through further legislation in 2015, but Defra does not appear to be considering any regulatory change for England. The Environment Agency (EA) has now issued guidance on separate collections which appears to place a significant burden on waste operators to demonstrate compliance but there is no clear indication as to how TEEP should be interpreted and what compliance realistically means.

MRF Code of Practice (CoP) reporting will also start on 1 January. The MRF CoP is designed to improve the quality of both commingled recycling collections and of MRF output to markets. This should work alongside the separate collection requirements and encourage both councils and C&I collectors to move away from the ‘take-all’ commingled recyclables collections, but its impact is difficult to predict. In theory, the EA has the ability to put the MRF CoP, the separate collection and the waste hierarchy requirements together to force up both the quantity and the quality of recycling, especially from C&I sources, but current indications are that there is little appetite within the EA to apply this level of enforcement.

Learning lessons

In Scotland, the requirement to separate has been in effect since the beginning of 2014. They have applied a clear education and enforcement policy which England could do much to learn lessons from and it appears to be working.

The RDF market has raised some eyebrows with some high profile illegal storage cases causing concern over opportunistic abuse. The ‘Call for evidence’ response by Defra suggest that 2015 will see some welcome attempts to raise operator standards and quality requirements. Exports in general are under increasing scrutiny by the Agencies and it seems likely that quality standards will continue to be tightened in 2015, both by the enforcement bodies and those in the destination countries.

Increasing concern on end-destinations is being encouraged by the Resource Association and it would seem likely that 2015 will see potential repercussions from this as exports become more difficult and the lack of UK capacity takes its toll. The Packaging Regulations, for instance, that will see plastic targets jump by another 5%, could see PRN prices soar if the export markets are impacted by quality issues. This will become an increasing issue if the European Circular Economy package proposals are progressed.

‘Stepping back’

The recent EFRA criticism of Defra for ‘stepping back’ from intervention highlighted the lack of strategic direction. Defra will be working in 2015 to look at how waste regulation needs to be adjusted to deliver targets, both existing and forthcoming. Fears over the ability to meet the 2020 household waste recycling target let alone the sharp increases proposed under the Circular Economy package suggests some lateral thinking is required. Part of that will be a review of the current PRN system which must look to see whether there is a limit as to what a short-term bridging mechanism can achieve. The fact that the UK depends on exports for nearly 50% of its packaging recycling must raise alarm bells for the further growth of 30% demanded by the Commission proposals.

Another area of change for next year may be the definition of waste and duty of care. Defra has committed to publish a revised Duty of Care Code of Practice in 2015 but there is also widespread agreement that current waste legislation inhibits reuse.

The recent ‘Definition of Waste’ discussion document issued by Defra raises questions and requests comments on how existing legislation can be reviewed to reduce barriers to reuse and SEPA is also known to be reviewing Scottish legislation on the same basis. Scotland and Ireland have already revised their DoC CoP and hopefully the revisions for England and Wales will provide a clearer position on low risk opportunities for reuse whilst applying a tighter process on high risk wastes and dubious operators.

But a common theme throughout all these potential changes is that regulation is only as effective as the enforcement that is applied. For investment in alternatives to the low cost option to be attractive, the market has to know that the Agencies will regulate on a fair and proportionate basis. Hopefully 2015 will also see not only improved regulation, but increased cooperation between industry and the regulators to create more efficient, effective and appropriate enforcement.

Phil Conran is director at 360 Environmental

This article first appeared in edie’s sister title, LAWR. Read the latest digital issue here.

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