No-Deal Brexit Fears: Disruption In The Waste & Recycling Sector

SUEZ has warned that more waste could be sent to landfill in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there are concerns that a no-deal result will disrupt the export of millions of tonnes of waste to the EU, seeing it sent to landfill instead. At present, the UK exports three million tonnes of domestic waste to the EU annually, where it is either used for recycling or used as RDF.

SUEZ, believes that a no-deal Brexit could result in the UK not meeting its current waste management targets. Stuart Hayward-Higham, technical development director at SUEZ, said: "In the various impacts we've looked at, as a result of a no-deal Brexit, we do know that there'll be some lowering of those environmental performance indicators that we are all trying to strive to achieve,"

"One of the outcomes of a no-deal Brexit will mean that we will put more to landfill,"

Industry insiders state it would be harmful for the environment and costs councils millions of pounds. Internal documents containing contingency plans for local authorities should a no-deal happen, show a great deal of concern surrounding the issue of waste, many councils have placed the potential disruption as medium or high risk in their Brexit preparations. Southampton City Council’s internal document states that port delays "could result in recycling banks and waste transfer stations becoming full and potentially closing". The document states that if this happens, recyclables might have to be sent to landfill or to RDF facilities.

The no-deal preparation documents reveal several short-term risks to waste collections, due to localised congestion and fuel supply issues, but they have listed some potential measures to lower their impact. Several councils are stockpiling bin bags and wheelie bins, in one instance new bin lorries were fast-tracked to beat the March Brexit deadline. In April, Braintree Council listed the high risk of a knock-on effect from transport and fuel problems, to mitigate this it stated it might have to "consider reducing allocations of [bin] sacks per household to eke out supplies".

Sevenoaks Council has proposed using a park and ride as a temporary waste site and said road congestion "leading to late or no collections will impact on the community stockpiling waste in gardens or streets".

Milton Keynes council has approached several waste sites and asked if they can accommodate increased volumes of waste.

Jacob Hayler from the Environmental Services Association explained that the council’s concerns were reasonable worst-case scenarios that could potentially occur only in a more general crisis involving transport congestion and fuel issues. He credited the government for guaranteeing the ongoing legal framework which will enable waste exports to continue after Defra successfully negotiated the continuation of the waste trade with individual regulators in EU nations. Mr Hayler added that waste is difficult to store and stated "so you can't have it all just piling up at the docks".

He explained that a more sustainable solution such as developing more EfW plants would take too long, which  leaves landfill as the only option. He proposed using mothballed landfill sites, mainly located in the north of England to pick up the slack instead. Mr Hayler said: "It would have to start being trucked from the ports up to those landfill spaces further up north and stuck in a hole in the ground. And that's something that we would really like to avoid,"

The UK’s waste industry trade body has cautioned that a disruptive no-deal Brexit could result in waste from the more densely populated South East being transported to landfill in Northern England.

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: "We are encouraging businesses who export waste to consider and continue to plan alternative options in case of disruption at borders,"

The biggest worry for the industry is whether the export of black-binned household waste to Germany, the Netherlands or Scandinavia will be either be prevented or delayed by port congestion following a no-deal Brexit.

Following a no-deal outcome it is expected that further falls in the value of the pound and the issue of World Trade Organisation tariffs could make the export of waste uneconomical. At present it is unclear whether the trade falls under importing a service- waste processing- or exporting a good- a type of fuel.

The Environment Agency has been working with the industry to establish the availability of landfill sites that could take waste which would have been exported. It stated that if disruption was to occur waste exporters will be expected to have contingency plans in place which meet the environmental standards of their permits and licenses. "Even in a no deal situation, we will continue to expect all waste operators to adhere to the conditions of their permits and will not hesitate to take appropriate action otherwise," an agency spokesperson said.

Courtesy of the recycling forum

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