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Last month’s debate at WASTE’15 was interesting in that the various representatives from the Environment Agency, Defra, CIWM, WAMITAB and UROC explained their philosophy and answered questions from the floor. What was made clear, is that the regulators are getting tougher and one could be forgiven, after reading waste news sites regularly, for thinking that they (at the top) don’t want much of an industry (skip hire one at least) to regulate if they shut down too many operators. So I was surprised to hear Resource Minister Rory Stewart announcing later in July that British businesses would save £10 billion by cutting red tape. How on Earth does government derive these figures when new rules and regulations are released almost weekly? How are the cost savings measured later?

The problem is that the announcement contains an inherent contradiction. He said, “…we will shortly be publishing the government response to the recent consultation on legislative proposals to enhance the Environment Agency’s enforcement powers”. Why do we need to add to regulatory powers when announcing a reduction in red tape? Are the two mutually exclusive? The enforcement powers are there already, so when they are not used to good effect – should we add more? Keep the powers straightforward and train the regulatory staff well and the results are more likely to follow.

On 16th July, Defra issued a call for evidence on the impact of regulations across the waste industry, so where do we start? Here’s a few favourites of mine, listed against the specific areas announced in the review:

Compliance checks/ Visits and inspections 

Whether we like it or not, compliance checks are a necessary part of enforcing any regulatory regime. How those checks are carried out and the feedback given is so important. If we could decouple the ‘points make prizes’ approach that has implemented a perverse variant of the ‘polluter pays principle’ – the world would be a better place. Prevention is better than finding a cure. Having a better mechanism to challenge inspections would be useful as well.

Data collection and requests

I would scrap the requirement to report individual EWC codes on waste returns and just require a tonnages return to be filed. Why? Until we have a waste classification system that actually works and is understood by the majority of the industry, the figures are all but meaningless.

Requirements to make formal applications or provide information to obtain necessary permits and licences

As an ex-regulator, consultant and COTC holder I don’t see a problem with the requirement for formal applications. What happens when they land in the regulator’s inbox is the most important thing.  More transparency of the decision making process is needed for decisions to refuse applications and maybe a review that allows some form of arbitration when the regulator is minded to refuse an application. Why? – Appeals take too long.

Proportionality of regulation 

As above, proportionality and consistency go hand-in-hand. Getting one right helps the other, so why do we have to put up with poorly trained, inexperienced staff that are not taken to task when they make mistakes. Send the good ones out and keep the others in the office.

Consultation by regulators

Consultation is a good thing but having more working groups where the issues can be thrashed out would be more useful. For many years it has been easy to comment on new regulations or guidance only to wonder how much weight has been attached to your comments. Waste management companies are at the coalface and regulators need to appreciate that the world moves an awful lot quicker than they do. By the time new rules and guidance have been implemented the world has changed.

Clarity of guidance and advice

Well let’s not put the cart before the horse here. Can we at least have some way of establishing what guidance and advice is out there? It doesn’t matter which regulator you deal with, it is almost impossible to be fully appraised of all available guidance. How about a spreadsheet or database listing all relevant environmental guidance, dates, versions etc. so it can be searched by regulator, sector and subject, even having a link to the website that hosts the document?

“This review is about giving the people who work in the waste industry a voice, giving them an opportunity to have a say on regulations that affect them, and creating an efficient and productive waste industry.”

Have a look at the following link and make your own mind up. What we do need is for the industry to come together and deal with the problems and issues it faces:

https://cutting-red-tape.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/waste/

The review is seeking evidence of an awful lot more issues than I can fit in this column so I urge you to get stuck in and have a look.

Marco Muia BSc (Hons) MSc MCIWM is the Managing Director of Oaktree Environmental Limited. He specialises in all aspects of waste planning and regulation consultancy. He also holds the level 4 COTCs for Hazardous Waste Treatment and Transfer. You can contact Marco on 01606 558833 if you have any questions about this article or e-mail him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @wastechat.