New rules on EU waste shipments from 1 January 2021

The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has published a set of rules on waste shipments to come into force from 1 January 2021, as part of its guidelines on Brexit transition: new rules for 2021.

The rules, which build on the existing regulations on importing and exporting waste, cover the shipment of waste between the European Union (EU), Great Britain (GB) and Northern Ireland from the end of the transition period.

While there will be no changes to the controls on the export of waste from Northern Ireland, the regulations on shipping waste from EU countries to Great Britain, as well as from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and to the EU, have been updated and will come into effect from 1 January 2021.

EU to Great Britain

Under EU law, EU countries will not be allowed to export waste for disposal or export mixed municipal waste for recovery to Great Britain.

Any GB businesses based in the EU that want to ship waste to Great Britain must complete waste notification and export forms from the Customs Office of Exit from the EU.

It is also the responsibility of GB businesses to ensure that any waste transported within the EU is carried out by authorised waste carriers.

Great Britain to EU

After the transition period, the UK will be treated in the same way as any other OECD country or any country part of the Basel Convention that intends to export waste to an EU country.

Similarly to EU waste exports to Great Britain, exporters must complete waste notification and export forms. However, these must be from either the Customs Office of Entry into the EU or the Customs Office of Exit from the EU, if relevant.

GB businesses wanting to transport waste to the EU will need authorisation from each country they transport waste through – with requirements for waste carriers outside the EU or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) areas differing.

A duly reasoned request (DRR) is also required for Great Britain to ship waste to or through the EU. This must explain why the UK cannot process or dispose of the waste, with requests to dispose of waste in the EU already largely prohibited.

Great Britain to Northern Ireland

Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, which ensures goods will not need to be checked along the Irish border when the transition period ends, Northern Ireland will continue to apply EU waste shipment controls to waste transported from Great Britain.

According to Defra guidelines, hazardous waste consignment notes or written waste transfer notes will no longer be accepted in Northern Ireland.

In addition, responsibility lies with GB exporters to determine whether their waste is prohibited, requires consent from authorities or can be transported under Green List controls – with green list waste considered to be low risk to the environment under these regulations.

Industry response

The issue of Brexit’s impact on waste exports remains to be seen. The waste management industry has previously urged the UK Government and the EU to ensure that waste can continue to be transported from the UK to mainland Europe after Brexit. 

In February this year, former Environment Secretary Michael Gove stated that trade barriers and border controls will come into effect from 1 January 2021.

This could prove significant if waste exporters experience delays at ports. With 15 per cent of the 3.6 million tonnes of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) the UK sends to mainland EU countries every year via the Port of Dover, changes and disruptions to border controls could cause significant backlogs at the port.

Dr Adam Read, External Affairs Director for SUEZ, said: "We’re prepared for and ready to comply with the new guidance coming into force on 1 January governing the export of waste. However, the bigger question for us and other exporters, regardless of whether a Brexit deal is agreed, is the uncertainty around the extent of congestion at ports that may disrupt shipping and we’re taking steps to ensure we’re positioned to manage any disruption that may occur."

Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association, commented: "The big issue for the industry was securing the necessary bilateral agreements with individual EU Member States to enable exports of refus-derived fuels to continue after the end of the transition period. Defra has done a good job at this so that in theory the movements of these materials will continue to flow freely.

"As an industry we are however concerned about the potential for practical delays at the dockside which may cause blockages further up the chain. Under these circumstances it will be important for the Environment Agency to show the same practical approach it has under the coronavirus crisis to grant operators the flexibility they need to keep operating under a period of short-term disruption."