Environment Act given Royal Assent

The Environment Act was enshrined into law yesterday (9 November), with the bill being given Royal Assent and thereby made an Act of Parliament.

The act encompasses legally binding environmental targets which will be enforced by the newly formed Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – governmental and public bodies will be held to account on their obligations by the department.

Environment Act made an Act of ParliamentThe Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) claims that the act will deliver the following objectives for the waste and resource management sector.

  • The successful transition to an increasingly circular economy
  • Increased recycling rates across the general public
  • Increased usage of sustainable packaging by businesses
  • Increased efficiency of household recycling
  • The introduction of a ban on plastic waste exports, particularly to developing countries.

Defra states that work on implementing policies within the act has already commenced. It claims that legally binding environmental targets are currently being developed, with consultations being launched on deposit return schemes for drinks containers; extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging; and the standardisation of recycling collection.

Beyond ongoing debates surrounding potential legislation, the Government has published a draft Principles Policy Statement, as well as beginning the legwork of setting up the OEP in an interim, non-statutory form back in July. Defra states that the office will ‘formally commence its statutory functions shortly.’

On the passing of the Environment Act, Secretary, George Eustice, commented: “The Environment Act will deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. It will halt the decline of species by 2030, clean up our air and protect the health of our rivers, reform the way in which we deal with waste and tackle deforestation overseas.

“We are setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.”

Executive Director of the ESA, Jacob Hayler, said: “The long-awaited Environment Act provides much of the underpinning legislation for Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS), which represents a radical policy-shift that will help the resources and waste sector to deliver the government’s ambition on achieving a sixty-five per cent municipal recycling rate by 2035 – which in turn also supports net-zero goals too.

“Importantly, the Act provides powers to ensure that greater resource-efficiency is designed into products, making them more durable, repairable and recyclable – while also providing for greater transparency to consumers as well as transferring the post-consumer costs of dealing with packaging waste to those that place it on the market. It also allows for changes to recycling and waste collections across England, bringing in mandatory food waste collections for local authorities and ending what Government describes as the ‘postcode lottery’ for recycling services.

“After a long process through Parliament, we are pleased to see that the Environmental Bill finally granted Royal Assent, but much of the content related to the RWS policy changes will be subject to secondary legislation, and the important details around the implementation of this act in daily life have therefore yet to be fully seen.

“Furthermore, the ESA welcomes the much-needed tightening of legislation around waste crime that the Environment Act paves the way for, alongside improved enforcement powers, but implementation of this must be supported by increased funding to regulatory and enforcement bodies if they are to have their desired effect to both protect the environment and support investment in legitimate enterprise.”

Jenny Grant, Head of Organics and Natural Capital at the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA), added: “We welcome the news that the Environment Bill has achieved royal assent. The organic recycling of food and garden wastes from households, along with food wastes from businesses, is key in tackling climate change. This not only reduces emissions compared with leaving them in the residual waste stream, but also enables the production of valuable soil conditioners and fertilisers that can be returned to our soils and used as a partial replacement for peat in growing media.

“We urge the government to implement these requirements as soon as possible so we can get the maximum benefits from these valuable resources.”