In May 2018, the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, announced that Britain’s sustainability legislation would remain strong after Brexit. A statement issued by Gove said “We will not weaken environmental protections when we leave the EU. A new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will ensure core environmental principles remain central to government policy and decision-making. This will help us to deliver a Green Brexit and the vision set out in our 25 Year Environment Plan.” A strong statement indeed but can it be delivered upon? Only time will tell.
UK still to be aligned to EU environmental policies?
The general consensus is that the EU’s environmental policies are strong and well regarded. This is why it would appear that the UK government wants to use these policies as part of UK law post-Brexit. The continuation of these laws would mean no possible negative changes and it also gives the government the chance to even improve upon EU laws.
The EU sets each of its member’s environmental targets in terms of recycling, biodegradable waste heading to landfill and more. The EU’s target of no more than 35% of biodegradable waste going to landfill is currently being hit by all UK nations; Wales in particular is setting the bar high at an impressive 15%. The level of recycling from household waste falls short for all bar Wales however. The EU target of 50% of all household waste recycled by 2020 is currently 5% short in England and even shorter in Scotland and Northern Ireland. What this does show however is that commercially the UK is doing well with recycling but the household side needs improving upon.
Household recycling in the UK is a confusing system and one which can be drastically improved. All UK councils have different recycling policies with some materials recyclable in one county but not in another. We are also given boxes, bins and bags with very little thought and effort put into what they are designed for. This is not a product of the EU, as Germany has a brilliant system of colour coded household bins and its government has passed on a clear message to its citizens to always recycle, meaning they are streets ahead of the UK in terms of household recycling.
Whilst the poor household recycling system in the UK is not an EU issue, breaking free or partially free from EU rules should provide the UK with the opportunity to improve the current structure. If the UK wants Brexit to be a success, then we need to prove we can improve the UK economically, environmentally, in terms of security, and so on… A robust household recycling system is certainly one that is achievable if done properly.
Recycling for business
Commercial recycling appears to be doing well in the UK, but there is always room for improvement. If the government gets the choice, then the target of no more than 35% of biodegradable waste going to landfill should be lowered further after Brexit. Sending a clear message to businesses will ensure they are recycling properly. The message should be obvious. Recycle and help your business as well as the environment. If a business can save money by recycling, then the environmental benefits come with it. Using baling machines for materials like cardboard and plastic is currently the most eco-friendly to recycle and saves businesses the most money, time and space. Baling ensures waste is 100% recycled, with no loose boxes for example overflowing into a general waste stream.
Targeting plastic waste
One new sustainability strategy brought in this year was a 25 year environment plan that mainly targets plastic waste. The UK government wants to see plastic free aisles in supermarkets and all stores to charge 5p for plastic bags with the ultimate aim of ending all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. The plan has been criticised for being too vague, but at least a carefully thought out plan has been created.
This plan, coupled with the global problem of single-use plastics, means UK businesses should be doing all they can to recycle their plastic properly and despite the poor household recycling system we have in place, the UK must do its best to recycle as much domestic plastic as possible.
Next steps for UK sustainability
It is becoming clearer that the government is finding it tough with Brexit negotiations and as time goes on, hopefully we will get more clarity on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. For now, though, it is likely we will see little legislation change for a few years, if at all. It is still important for the UK, and indeed other countries, to continually try to improve sustainability levels and hopefully in time, the UK can create its own high targets to beat.