Welsh Environment Bill passed by National Assembly

A bill that could ban the incineration of recyclable material is to become law after being passed by the National Assembly for Wales yesterday (2 February).

The Environment (Wales) Bill, which was first introduced to the National Assembly in May last year, will use a ‘joined-up’ approach to manage the country’s natural resources and, according to Resources Minister Carl Sargeant, ‘accelerate progress against the Welsh Government’s headline targets’. It aims to put in place a stronger approach to tackling climate change, and will set an emissions target of at least an 80 per cent reduction by 2050.

A ‘State of Natural Resources’ report, highlighting the condition and extent of Wales’s natural resources, their ability to respond to pressures and their capacity to adapt to climate change will also be frequently published as part of the approach, while a national resources policy will outline the ‘key priorities and opportunities for sustainable management of natural resources in relation to Wales.

The bill is expected to be passed into law from 2017.

Waste management

The legislation also includes measures to improve Welsh waste management throughout its chain. In conjunction with landfill bans, the Welsh Government says it will increase recycling and recovery of waste, decreasing pressure on natural resources while also contributing positively to the economy and the environment.

Businesses and other waste producers will be obliged to segregate recyclable materials before collection or face prosecution, in an attempt to improve the quality of material entering the recycling market.

Non-domestic properties will also be banned from disposing of food waste into the sewage system, ensuring that it is instead used for energy recovery, while also reducing the risk of environmental pollution and blockages.

Finally, the bill would enable ministers to impose a ban on recyclable materials and resources being used in thermal treatment facilities (such as incineration and gasification or pyrolysis plants).

Carrier bag charge

The legislation will also enable the Welsh Government to make changes to its carrier bag charging scheme. Introduced in October 2011, the scheme reduced single-use carrier bag use in major supermarkets by 79 per cent by 2013. However, data produced by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) suggests that this period has also seen a significant increase in the sale of bags for life.

Under the measures included in the Environment Bill, ministers will be able to set a charge for other types of carrier bags, including bags for life, if evidence shows that their supply and disposal is detrimental to the environment. They will also see retailers obliged to donate proceeds to good causes, where they are currently only encouraged to do so.

Resources to be a ‘core consideration’ in future decision-making

Following the National Assembly’s approval of the bill, Sargeant said: “This is a great day for Wales as the passing of the Environment Bill will ensure that the sustainable management of our natural resources will be a core consideration in all future decision-making.

“I’m proud that this is the first bill in the UK – and as far as we are aware in the EU – to put in place the ecosystem approach adopted by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity into domestic legislation. This recognises the vital role natural resources and their services provide to Wales’s economy, communities and environment.

“The Environment Bill complements the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 and together, they put in place the framework needed to secure the long-term well-being of Wales.”

Emyr Roberts, Chief Executive of NRW, added: “The passing of the Environment Bill puts us in a better position to be able to manage our natural resources in a way that helps us tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable land management.

“This bill, along with the Well-being of Future Generations Act and the Planning Act, places sustainable development at the heart of decision making across the public, private and third sectors, which will enable us all to fully recognise the contribution our natural resources make to tackling poverty, health inequalities, creating more jobs and a greener economy.”

Libby Ferguson, States & Regions Director at The Climate Group, said: “The Welsh Government is taking a progressive approach with this new piece of legislation. Wales were among 123 global governments who committed to ambitious long-term emissions reductions at the global climate summit, COP21, in December last year.

“Only a few weeks after this commitment, The Environment Bill is a clear example of how quickly the government are turning targets into concrete action. The Climate Group is delighted that Wales is an active member of the global States & Regions Alliance, where this innovative approach to tackling climate change can be shared with a network of governments around the world.”

More information on the Environment (Wales) Bill can be found on the Welsh Government’s website.

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