Queen’s Speech lays out plans to end plastic waste exports to developing nations
The government’s Environment Bill will include a ban on the export of plastic waste to non-OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, it was confirmed in the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament today (19 December).
The plastic export ban – which was included in the Conservative Party’s manifesto – will join policies such as the introduction of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for beverage containers and an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for packaging in the government’s Environment Bill, which passed its second reading in Parliament at the end of October before falling due to the general election and will now be brought back before Parliament following the Conservative victory on 12 December.
Since the introduction of the Chinese Government’s waste ban at the start of 2018, the UK has diverted much of its plastic waste to low-income countries in Southeast Asia, overwhelming their waste management systems and causing significant environmental damage.
With the UK sending two thirds of its plastic waste abroad, an export ban would place considerable pressure on domestic infrastructure, requiring substantial investment into reprocessing facilities within the UK.
Commenting on the proposed export ban, Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), said: “ESA fully supports the principle of responsible export, and we look forward to working with the government to ensure that the proposed ban goes hand-in-hand with other measures to stimulate domestic demand for recyclable materials, and the delivery of new infrastructure; and that it ensures good recyclable material is not sent for disposal.
“It would seem that we are finally entering a period of political stability, and ESA members will no doubt be pleased that the new government is wasting no time in cracking on with a legislative agenda to deliver on its pledges for the environment, even if the timeline is ultimately being driven by the government’s desire to exit the EU by the end of January.”
The proposed Environment Bill is also set to enshrine environmental principles and targets in law, creating an Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) to oversee the delivery of these targets.
Although the Speech described the new watchdog as a “world-leading, independent regulator in statute”, the independence of the OEP has been called into question by Parliament’s Environment Audit Committee (EAC), which has called for a stronger link between the OEP and Parliament to guarantee the watchdog’s independence.
The reintroduction of the Environment Bill has been welcomed by the industry which has been frustrated by the stop-start progress of resources and waste policy. Hayler, saying that the Bill’s reintroduction felt like “Groundhog Day”, added: “It would seem that we are finally entering a period of political stability, and ESA members will no doubt be pleased that the new government is wasting no time in cracking on with a legislative agenda to deliver on its pledges for the environment, even if the timeline is ultimately being driven by the government’s desire to exit the EU by the end of January.”
David Palmer-Jones, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, added: “We are pleased that environmental protection and enhancement is back at the heart of the Queen’s Speech following an election campaign that saw environmental issues rise in prominence driven by voters desire to protect our natural capital.
“We urge the government to maintain the momentum behind the Environment Bill to bring about the systemic change needed that will ultimately see businesses radically alter their entire approach to waste, designing in recovery and re-use of the materials used in their products.
“There remains a collective desire from the public, business and local authorities to have in place an EPR scheme that fulfills the polluter pays principle. With EPR we will be better placed to move towards clearer labelling of goods for recycling, and the previous Conservative Government’s clearly stated desire for a DRS for plastic bottles and cans and for greater consistency in waste and recycling collections.”
Dr Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of the REA, said: “We are pleased to see the Environment Bill reintroduced. As Brexit certainty increases and the leaving date looms, it is more important than ever that we have stable, long-term and far-reaching environmental protections and standards in place. We encourage the new government, and Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] in particular, to incorporate the amendments put forward by the Environmental Audit Committee and MPs during its second reading to ensure the Bill lives up to its name as ‘world-leading’.”