Government warns waste exporters of ‘no deal’ Brexit port disruption

The government has warned waste exporters to expect delays at container ports such as the Port of Dover in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, and says businesses should seek ‘alternative’ export, recovery or disposal routes for their waste.

The latest advice from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), published yesterday (25 March), comes amid continued uncertainty over the UK’s departure from the EU and whether the government’s negotiated Withdrawal Agreement will be accepted by Parliament, if the UK will crash out without a deal or, indeed, whether Brexit will even go ahead at all.

Government warns waste exporters of ‘no deal’ Brexit port disruption
The port of Dover
According to the advice, ‘leaving the EU with a deal remains the government’s top priority’, but ‘no deal’ preparations have been stepped up considerably in recent times, with the Guardian publishing leaked details of the government’s Operation Yellowhammer, which details the civil contingency plans for dealing with disruption precipitated by a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

While the government states that it has been planning for a ‘no deal’ scenario, it acknowledges that there may be disruption and that changes to border controls ‘may impact on some waste exports’.

Though the government does not expect disruptions at container ports and is taking steps to minimise the impact, those operating a ‘roll-on, roll-off’ system for haulage vehicles may experience ‘some delays’, with the port of Dover predicted to be the most affected. This has the potential to particularly affect exports of refuse derived fuel (RDF) to mainland Europe: 15 per cent of the 3.6 million tonnes of RDF the UK sends to mainland Europe every year travels through the Port of Dover.

Coffey: Government is ‘preparing for any eventuality’

Commenting on the government’s ‘no deal’ preparations and its implications for the waste industry, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said: “Our landmark Resources and Waste Strategy makes clear that we are committed to dealing with more of our waste in the UK and increasing recycling. But in the short term, we have taken important action to ensure any disruption caused by a no-deal Brexit can be minimised.

“This government has been absolutely clear on our commitment to deliver a Brexit deal negotiated with the EU. But the government is preparing for any eventuality and we need our businesses to do the same.”

Though disruption may occur at ports, the legal basis of waste exports will remain unchanged, with the government having secured agreements to roll over 100 per cent of the UK’s notified hazardous waste shipments after Brexit, while no change will be seen in the rules that govern the export of non-notified waste to the EU.

In the event of disruption, however, the government has advised waste exporters to take precautionary measures to minimise the impact on their business, including:

  • Reviewing their own storage capacity and considering the potential environmental risks of storing waste for longer;
  • Identifying alternative storage facilities or ‘alternative recovery or disposal routes’ for their waste; and
  • Assessing if there are ‘alternative export routes’ that avoid disrupted ports.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove had previously raised the prospect of stockpiling waste in the event of ‘no deal’, with assessments taking place over the South East of England’s capacity to store extra waste.

Those businesses that do choose to change export routes will have to change their export notification, which must be agreed by the competent authorities in the UK and the destination country. The Environment Agency can be contacted for advice in England, while the equivalent competent authorities can be contacted in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

‘No one really knows what would happen the day after a no deal exit’

Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), commented: “Defra has confirmed that all export notifications will be rolled over under a no deal scenario. This means that there are no regulatory impediments to continued RDF exports. Concerns remain, however, over whether there would be delays in practice at the ports, particularly Dover.

“The Port of Dover is confident that it has the right processes in place to prevent no deal disruption but the message is clear that operators need to have contingencies in place as no one really knows what would happen the day after a no deal exit.”

Focusing on the implications for exports of RDF and calling for their prioritisation, Bethany Ledingham, Secretariat of the RDF Industry Group, said: “Defra continues to advise RDF operators to have robust contingency plans in place, for both storage and disposal of waste. Defra is confident that there is landfill capacity available in England, but with no plans from central government to provide financial support, many operators will only be willing to bear these costs under a worst-case scenario.

“With the regulators advising they will continue to treat permitted sites on a case-by-case basis with regards to storage capacities, it is essential that the UK Government and also member states which import waste ensure any new processes brought in at the EU border do not threaten the timely delivery of RDF to receiving facilities.”

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