Greener UK
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Waste & resources

June 2016 - June 2017


The EU’s new Circular Economy Package is currently being debated in the European Parliament, Council and Commission. It is expected to be finalised at some point this year. The UK has been largely quiet on the package, though the government is wary of increasing recycling targets or changing the definition of recycling, saying this could result in ‘perverse’ outcomes.  The UK government says it is playing an active role in negotiations, but it is unclear whether it will adopt the new targets post-Brexit.

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Principles & strategies
The Great Repeal Bill White Paper fails to give a clear commitment to carrying across the general principles in the EU treaties that underpin waste and resources policy, such as the goals of sustainable development and a high level of environmental protection, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle.

The government’s stated goal in the Great Repeal Bill White Paper is to “ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in domestic law”. This broad commitment is reassuring, yet it is stated elsewhere that the bill will only convert EU law into domestic law “wherever practical and sensible”, and it is not yet clear whether this could create gaps in environmental protections.

Brexit may lead recycling rates to stagnate, as the current targets expire in 2020, and the UK’s progress on raising recycling rates has stalled at around 44%. It is not clear whether or not the UK will transpose the EU’s proposed 2030 recycling targets or develop its own targets or alternative approach.

Ecodesign, a policy which requires manufacturers to make products that are more efficient, durable and repairable, has the potential to make a significant contribution to resource efficiency in the UK. In November 2016 the European Commission announced new ecodesign priorities and a new plan for regulations over the next few years. However, while the UK government has pledged to maintain current environmental standards it is unclear how or if the UK will stay in sync with EU product standards.

Capacity & funding
Defra is due to see a 15% reduction in its resource spending between 2015 and 2020. It is unclear whether it (and the Environment Agency, which receives funding from Defra) will be able to cope with any additional workload associated with the transposition of all EU rules to the UK, and then the monitoring of existing policy and creation of new policy. Most of this effort has happened at EU level thus far.

The Great Repeal Bill White Paper does not make clear what, if any, domestic governance arrangements will be put in place to replace the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the role it jointly plays with other EU institutions in providing the monitoring, oversight, accountability, and enforcement functions required to ensure the effective implementation of waste and resources legislation.

The government’s decision to end the jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK is very significant for resource policy: there is a large body of case law which sets the rules for waste treatment, waste targets compliance, and product standards compliance are ultimately subject to ECJ decisions. Without some form of co-ordination mechanism, as decisions on these matters continue to be made, the UK may end up with conflicting rules on product standards, which would hinder trade, and on waste rules, which could strand investments in UK waste treatment facilities.

While it is still an EU member, the UK is continuing to engage in the Circular Economy Package negotiations, but the degree of future collaboration remains uncertain, making it difficult to judge the risk involved.