BY JENNY WATTS (UROC)
UROC was invited by the Chief Executive Sir James Bevan and Chair Emma Howard Boyd, of the Environment Agency, to discuss opportunities post Brexit. We attended the meeting on 23rd August 2016 along with other trade body representatives, and voiced our member’s opinions to the Agency and DEFRA’s Director of Environmental Quality, Sean Gallagher.
As work begins to design a future for the UK outside the EU, we discussed the opportunities that lie ahead for the waste and resources industry, and the work that can be done by the Agency and DEFRA in delivering standards for environmental protection – whilst not impeding business.
The Agency said it is committed to ensuring it plays a full part in shaping and delivering a strong future for the UK outside the EU, and has designated a special ‘EU Unit’ for this purpose.
It was accepted there is real uncertainty as to what will pan out over the coming months. However, this period should not have unintended consequences and the overarching message from industry was that long term certainty is required to stimulate investment across all waste sectors.
The British Metals Recycling Association (“BMRA”) provided some very interesting figures in relation to metal exports, stating that a staggering 8 million tonnes out of the 10 million arising annually in the UK are shipped overseas (the ratio is 1:2 for international:European exports).
The BMRA called for a ‘declassification’ of scrap metal as ‘waste,’ on the basis that European legislation requires it to be so classified. This is a barrier to selling metal to recipient countries (e.g. the Middle East) where a strict policy exists to not accept ‘waste’ from other countries – despite these countries having a demand for scrap metal as a primary resource.
We agreed scrap metal should be declassified as a waste, and there should be more targeted regulatory effort on illegal scrap dealers that are not permitted or indeed registered in accordance with the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013. These dealers are undermining legitimate business such as the skip hire sector, which is a conduit for processing scrap metal.
The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (“ADBA”) called for more Government commitment in relation to energy incentives to encourage the development of more facilities. There are currently 500 waste to energy facilities in the UK, compared to 9,000 in Germany.
ADBA said there is huge potential in novel emerging technologies. Whilst there has been a significant increase in operational plants in recent years, ADBA reiterated the viewpoint that the Government must support diversification or this sector will decline.
We emphasised the need for a commitment to energy security through emerging technologies, on the basis the independent operators UROC represents collectively hold a vast tonnage of resources that can be used as feedstock into renewable energy or indeed represent an opportunity to diversify waste transfer stations to become energy plants!
There should be provision for managing waste within our own borders by way of circular economy objectives, which means using waste as a resource for reprocessing new materials, or as fuel for renewable energy. This should assist in overcoming issues perceived with trans frontier shipments of RDF.
Further, the interface between planning and permitting should be aligned, and objections made where planners intend to allow housing developments in close proximity to waste sites (that have usually been in business for a number of decades). It is this very issue that causes complaints regarding; odour, dust, and noise that would otherwise not be an issue, but for waste companies ending up with a housing estate next door.
One of the main concerns is environmental legislation, and how the UK notoriously ‘gold plates’ European Directives. We called for timely consultations in relation to law impacting on the waste sector, and for the development of fit for purpose legislation that is not over burdensome and enables organisations to get on with their business.
It was suggested there may well be historic legislation such as the Special Waste Regulations 1996, (replaced by the Hazardous Waste Regulations 2005) that some say actually worked better for industry – e.g. simple guidance on classifying oil, paint, solvent, sealant, adhesives etc.. as hazardous or not. We don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel, but the opportunity to simplify legislation should be grasped with both hands.
What is certainly important is legislation should not exceed European criteria, as this will put the UK at a serious disadvantage, for example in the trade of vehicles, plant and equipment. UROC members expressed that they would be unwilling to buy from ‘unproven’ manufacturers, especially operators bound by the London Low Emission Zone.
It is known that a significant proportion of the labour pool in the waste sector is supplied by European workers. Members expressed concerns regarding the possible loss of work force, and the impact on productivity.
When asked if would we be invited for further discussion, the Chair replied that the meeting was “the start of the conversation.” The Agency is keen to further engage with industry to develop more ideas that can be implemented in anticipation of Article 50 being triggered.
Please get in touch with your ideas, so we can relay them to Government and the Agency.
Lastly, I would like to say a huge thanks to Bernard Girling, a skip wagon driver for Brewsters Waste Management, from whom I thumbed a lift at Westminster.