EU law has been incremental in increasing recycling laws in the UK, so what might the final Brexit deal do to waste management?

The Government has stated that it is committed to making the most of our resources and reducing waste. A recent Commons Briefing paper examined UK trends in recycling and the applicable legislation at the EU and UK levels.

Most waste legislation derives from the EU and it is implemented in the UK mainly through statutory instruments—i.e. rules or orders that have the force of the law. Many aspects of EU waste legislation are devolved, so England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland governments manage their own waste and set their own recycling targets though the UK government leads on tax measures that encourage recycling.

Minimum targets

At present, the UK is required to meet the EU target of recycling a minimum of 50 percent by weight of household waste by 2020. Recycling has increased massively since 2000, but household recycling rates have begun to plateau.

Wales is the only UK nation to have met the 50 percent requirement—in fact, its household recycling rate in 2016.17 was 64 percent. In England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the rates are between 44 and 46 percent. The overall UK rate is 44.6 percent.

Defra’s policy for England is to achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050, and zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Wales is the only country to have introduced statutory targets or municipal waste recycling its local authorities must meet.

Landfill reductions

In May of this year, the European Council formally agreed a recycling target for municipal waste of 65 percent. And by 2035, the amount of municipal waste land-filled must reduce to 10 percent of less of the total amount of municipal waste.

All plastic packaging in the EU market must be recyclable by 2030 and intentional use of micro-plastics will be restricted.

The barriers to recycling and increasing the rates the report identifies are:

  • Segregation at source, significantly lower in England than levels achieved in the best performing recycling European countries
  • Limited material capture, where local authorities can only provide limited proportions of households with collection for major recyclable items
  • Multi-occupancy dwellings—recycling rates are poorer in area where there is an increase in multi-occupancy homes
  • Rates are lower in areas where there is social deprivation, education and language issues.
  • Weaker policy levers—EU countries that use incentives such as pay as you throw schemes do better.

Recycling targets copied across

Some experts view Brexit as an opportunity to rethink how recycling targets can be set out. Waste and recycling targets will be copied across post Brexit, but the role the EU plays in monitoring and enforcing targets will be lost.

Brendan O’Shea, Just Clear’s founder and managing director, said: “Our customers have always made it clear to us they value our zero-to-landfill policy and the recycling policies we have put in place, which will not change post Brexit.

“It is important to us that we provide a service that values and respects the environment.”

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