Queen’s Speech: Environment Bill welcomed but industry demands more

The government has laid out its legislative plans for waste and recycling in the coming Parliament in today’s (14 October) Queen’s Speech, including extended producer responsibility (EPR) and a deposit return scheme (DRS).

Although the government’s ability to enact its legislative agenda remains almost non-existent having seen its slim majority evaporate in recent months, while the prospect of an early general election looms, the aspects of the Environment Bill revealed in the speech delivered by the Queen to Parliament have been welcomed by industry.

The Queen addresses Parliament at the state opening of Parliament.The main elements of the Environment Bill revealed today include the establishment of a new system of environmental governance, which would be based on environmental principles, a framework of legally-binding targets and a long-term plan to deliver on these targets, all overseen by a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

MPs have long called for the establishment of an OEP to assume the monitoring and oversight responsibilities currently carried out by the European Commission, though Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee previously took aim at what it called ‘deficient’ plans for environmental governance laid out in the Draft Environment Bill published in December 2018.

Beyond new environmental governance structures, the new Environment Bill will commit to implementing EPR for plastic packaging, introducing a DRS for beverage containers and taking a more consistent approach to recycling across England as laid out in the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy.

Stronger measures for tackling waste crime and enforcing anti-littering powers have also been included in the Bill, while charges for individual single-use plastic items have also been proposed.

New Bill could ‘unlock billions in new investment’

The main elements of the Environment Bill revealed in today’s Queen’s Speech have largely been welcomed by the resources and waste industry. Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the trade association for the UK’s waste management industry, said: “We welcome the prominence of environmental protection in the legislative agenda for the next session of Parliament, as set out in the Queen’s Speech today. If implemented correctly, a new Environmental Bill could unlock billions in new investment in the UK by the environmental services sector which, in turn, will help government deliver on its ambitious plans to: reduce waste; preserve natural resources; tackle the scourge of litter polluting our natural environment; and tackle waste crime – among wider environmental goals related to air quality, nature and water preservation and CO2 reduction.

Pointing to the success of the Landfill Tax in generating revenue for investment into recycling infrastructure, Hayler called for legislative certainty from government to ensure a robust investment regime to support major reforms included in the Resources and Waste Strategy.

He continued: “This will require major change and investment from the environmental services sector and the Environment Bill must provide the new legislative framework which will underpin this next phase of investment. ESA members have committed to investing ten billion in the UK over the next ten years, if given the right policy framework, which will create 50,000 jobs and deliver more than 40 million tonnes of CO2 savings.

“The bill, if designed properly, will also help to protect this new investment made by our sector, by levelling the playing field and providing government with new powers to tackle waste crime, which not only harms the environment, but costs the UK economy £600 million a year; undermines the sector; and threatens investment by legitimate operators.”

‘Long overdue’

The Bill was cautiously welcomed by individual waste management companies, though they argued that measures did not go far enough and more would need to be done to address the UK’s waste problem. Michael Topham, Chief Executive of Biffa, said: “We welcome the measures related to waste and plastics in the new environment bill announced by the government today. These matters need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. However, we are disappointed at the lack of ambition in the government’s present plans – they do not go far enough.

“Biffa has called for a ban on the export of waste plastics for recycling overseas so that all plastics are instead recycled domestically in the UK to restore public confidence in recycling and boost UK jobs and investment. We also need to phase out problem plastics, such as black plastics and bio-plastics, and make sure necessary plastic packaging is as recyclable as possible. This will require a commitment to further invest in the UK recycling infrastructure which is long overdue.”

David Palmer-Jones, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovering UK, added: “Plans under the Environment Bill to deal with plastic waste and pollution are to be commended, but these must come hand-in-hand with radical societal reform of our consumption and resource use.”

Palmer-Jones called for a coherent strategy to minimise the consumption of natural resources and move “from a throwaway society to a reuse-and-recycle society”.

He added: “The timetable for transitioning to a more sustainable UK economy needs now to be put back on track. As a nation we are part of a global community still far too reliant on finite global resources and we cannot afford to delay. The value chain of public, manufacturers, local authorities and recycling organisations are already investing and need to invest more to make this change happen but they need the right regulatory and investment conditions to be delivered by government now, to be able to deliver change within the timescales envisaged for a new sustainable economy.”

Mixed bag for anaerobic digestion

With the government committing to a net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the anaerobic digestion sector will have been looking keenly to the government’s proposals on the environment, given the potential for carbon reduction its form of energy production represents.

The UK Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association’s Chief Executive, Charlotte Morton, said: “We welcome the proposals outlined in the Queen’s Speech for new legislation implementing legally binding environmental targets, and a new regulator to police and enforce them. We would encourage Ministers to give this regulator real teeth to ensure we meet our Net Zero by 2050 commitments, and ensure that anaerobic digestion and its products are recognised as a critical part of this – it alone can reduce the UK’s total emissions by five per cent and is a technology which is here today.”

However, Dr Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Association, lamented the omission of the Energy White Paper – due to be published in the summer – from the Queen’s Speech, adding: “We were disappointed that there was no mention of the Energy White Paper. Already overdue following government commitments to publish in summer 2019, additional delays are impacting the UK, and the renewable and clean technology industry in particular, from planning for the future. This makes is difficult to instil confidence in potential investors and progress towards our net zero targets in a unified and constructive manner.

“We urge the government to deliver much needed clarification by publishing the Energy White Paper as soon as possible.”

You can view the Queen’s Speech and the associated background briefing on the government website.

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