Environment Bill leads UK-wide green transformation, says Villiers

Following its announcement in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, the government has today (15 October) introduced its Environment Bill to Parliament, outlining plans to improve environmental protection as the UK leaves the European Union.

The Bill will seek to ensure that future government policy prioritises the environment through introducing legally binding targets on resource and waste efficiency, water, biodiversity and air quality.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers

Introducing measures to transform waste and resource management, the Bill includes plans for extended producer responsibility (EPR), a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers and improvements in recycling consistency as laid out in the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy.

The Bill will also set up an Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) to scrutinise environmental policy and ensure that standards are upheld, though plans for environmental governance post-Brexit have previously been labelled as ‘deficient’ by MPs.

Commenting on the Bill, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Our natural environment is a vital shared resource and the need to act to secure it for generations to come is clear.

“That’s why our landmark Environment Bill leads a green transformation that will help our country to thrive. It positions the UK as a world leader on improving air quality, environmental biodiversity, a more circular economy and managing our precious water resources in a changing climate.

“Crucially, it also ensures that after Brexit, environmental ambition and accountability are placed more clearly than ever before at the heart of government, both now and in the future.”

Although the Bill only applies to England, the government expects that collaboration with the devolved governments will result in measures being implemented across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In particular, the government has stated that the policies designed to increase recycling rates are applicable throughout the UK.

Cllr Clyde Loakes, Chair of North London Waste Authority (NLWA), said: "In the face of a climate emergency NLWA welcomes the fact the government has introduced an Environment Bill to Parliament. This includes measures which NLWA has long been calling for, including the introduction of a deposit return scheme to improve recycling of plastic and glass materials, and also measures to increase producers' responsibility for the recycling and costs of treating their packaging. As the Bill is debated, it will be important for the government to clarify its aims for progress.

"There needs to be a greater move towards circular economy thinking to help change the way in which we all value and consume resources if we are to effectively tackle the climate emergency and meet public expectations.

"We therefore urge the government to carry out the next stages of consultation urgently and make a firm commitment on implementing the resultant policy as soon as possible – without it we cannot hope to deliver the resource-efficient future that is essential to tackling the climate emergency.

"The continued belief in a 'voluntary' approach to participation in recycling by households and businesses is clearly not working, nor in a climate emergency setting is such an approach suitable or appropriate. We therefore reiterate our call for recycling to be made compulsory for both households and businesses, with improved enforcement powers made for local councils to secure full and correct participation."

Is the Bill likely to be passed anytime soon?

Given the loss of government majority and looming general election, it seems highly unlikely that the Bill will be passed in the current Parliament.

Speaking for the Resource Association, Chief Executive Ray Georgeson said: “I genuinely wish the Environment Bill a fair wind, but it is hard to escape the feeling that it will be blown off course by the coming Brexit storms, whichever way they blow.

“There are some strong signals of intent in the proposed Bill, including the powers for the Office of Environmental Protection. We, of course, are keen to see detail related to extended producer responsibility, consistency and deposit return – our industry is hungry for a coherent and rounded package of reforms, not just a series of piecemeal actions.

“This is much needed if we are to be serious about creating a circular economy and tackling the climate emergency.”