Resource Use

Wales consults on new Environment Bill

The Welsh Government has today (23 October) launched a consultation on proposals to ‘provide a modern statutory framework for the sustainable management of natural resources’ and ban some materials, including plastic, from landfill and energy-from-waste facilities.

The ‘Environment (Wales) Bill' White Paper aims to ‘ensure [the Welsh Government] has the legislative framework in place to manage [its] natural resources in a joined-up way and that Natural Resources Wales has the right framework to support delivery against its statutory purpose’.

It has reportedly been released to address ‘key instances where existing legislation is outdated and not aligned or integrated to deliver lasting benefits to Wales’.

It is expected that the bill will be passed in ‘Spring 2016’.

White Paper details

Building on responses to the 2012 Green Paper consultation ‘Sustaining a Living Wales’, the White Paper sets out ‘more fully legislative proposals for natural resource management’.

It aims to ‘ultimately consolidate legislation in relation to the environment’ (but will include provision to enable a “tidying up” of the legislation in advance of potential consolidation).

Specifically, it seeks to implement:

  • a national Natural Resources Policy setting out the ‘high-level direction of travel for all natural resources related policy in Wales - including where integrated natural resource management can help to optimise social, economic and environmental benefits for now and the long term’. The policy will include targets, measures and priorities for the management of natural resources and will ‘help to better inform decision-makers by assisting them to consider how long-term environmental, social and economic outcomes could be optimised’ (as required by public bodies in the Future Generations Bill);
  •  a requirement on Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to develop and implement an ‘area-based approach’ for natural resource management. This will be a ‘planning- and priority-setting process that coordinates resource use so that the long-term sustainable benefits are optimised for the people, environment and economy of Wales in the present and in the future’; and
  • a requirement for NRW to report, at least every five years, on the state of natural resources in Wales. As well as reporting generally on trends, it would report on the ‘ongoing successes and challenges of implementing an integrated natural resource management process, including the legislative barriers to this that, in the opinion of NRW, still exist’.

It is intended that the Environment Bill will also introduce a power for Welsh Ministers to issue ‘direction’ on other bodies to ‘co-operate, share information, jointly plan for and jointly report on the management of natural resources, if they are not doing so already’.

Extending waste separation

In regards to waste, the bill proposes to give Welsh Ministers the power to extend the EC requirement to separate paper, glass, metal and plastic for recycling to ‘card, wood and food wastes’. This, it says, will ‘promote high quality recycling’ and ‘ensure that a full separate collection service is available to those that produce waste for the collection of their separately presented waste streams and will improve collection services for other waste producers’. It is proposed that this duty would be regulated by NRW, and would not come into place before the 1 January 2017.

Further, the White Paper proposes to place a duty on all waste producers other than householders (i.e shops, offices, schools etc) to present their recyclable waste separately for collection. Welsh Ministers would also be given the power to place this duty on waste producers.

The materials currently under consideration are paper, card, glass, plastic, metal, food and wood. As minimum separation criteria, waste could be separated by the business waste producer into separate streams of metal and plastic, glass, co-mingled paper/card, food waste, wood and a residual stream.

Partly co-mingled wastes will need to be separated at the kerbside or at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) provided that this separation complies with the requirements of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011.

It reads: ‘Modelling carried out for these proposals has predicted that this part of the proposals gives the highest levels of benefit, both in terms of high level benefits to the economy (£52 million over a ten year period) and to the environment (2.4 million tonnes CO2 equivalent over a ten year period).

‘The modelling carried out so far does not predict the costs to individual businesses. However, further work has been commissioned to estimate the likely cost of segregation waste materials to businesses, with an emphasis on small and medium size enterprises (SMEs). This work is scheduled to report in early 2014.’

Banning plastic from energy-from-waste facilities and landfill

The Environment Bill also proposes to ban uncontaminated paper and card, untreated wood, glass, metal, food waste, and most notably – plastic – from energy-from-waste facilities (excluding anaerobic digestion). The duty to prevent banned materials being incinerated would fall on the operators of energy from waste facilities and those sending wastes to such facilities. If such a ban was to be, it would not take effect before January 2017.

As well as energy-from-waste facility bans, the bill proposes to prevent paper, card, glass, plastic, metal, food and wood waste from landfill. Both of these bans would apply to all waste streams.

The bill also seeks to prohibit the disposal of food waste to sewers, and to implement an ‘appropriate enforcement regime’ for this provision. If enacted, this prohibition would apply to food waste from business premises only. Other proposals include extending the bag charge to other types of bags.

It reads: ‘Modelling for the above proposals has estimated a whole system benefit of £66 million to Wales, an additional 2.8 million tonnes of recycled materials and a CO2 equivalent abatement of 2.7 million tonnes over a ten year period.’

‘Stripping away unnecessary complexity’

Writing in the foreword to the White Paper, Minister for Natural Recourse and Food, said: ‘Wales’ natural resources – our land, air and water – provide the foundation for how we live and work. Given our fundamental dependence on our natural resources, using them sustainably is both common sense and our best opportunity to secure the long term prosperity, resilience and sustainable economic growth that is our priority.

‘That said, I do not subscribe to the view that in order to have jobs we have to forsake our environment or that we need to make false choices between economic growth and sustainable living. We can and must aim for both and in the global transition to low carbon economies failing to do so will be as detrimental to our economy as our environment. Our vision must be rooted not only in the priorities of today but also in ensuring the wellbeing of future generations.

‘In order to secure Wales’s future prosperity we need to recognise the value of our natural resources and the services they provide and to manage them carefully for the long term. To do this we need to put in place a modern legislative framework that recognises that our water, land and air are all interlinked and our economy, society and environment are all inter-dependent.

‘The White Paper proposals have been designed to strip away unnecessary complexity, simplify processes and plans and to deliver a more joined-up approach to natural resource management. Other proposals will enable improvements in resource efficiency, for example on waste regulation, and provisions to promote simplification and clarify the law in a number of areas. These proposals further support this Government’s drive for efficiency and to ensure we use our resources to best effect.’

Responses to the consultation must be received by 15 January 2014.

Read the proposals for the Environment (Wales) Bill.