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There’s a strong case to keep recycling targets, post-Brexit

Since the UK’s vote to leave the European Union back in June 2016, many of us in the waste and recycling sector have been eagerly and anxiously awaiting some firm statements from Government about the role that our industry will play in a post-Brexit economy.

The Government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper last month made encouraging noises about the positive role that recycling can and should play in realising a resource-efficient circular economy. However, specific policies relating to waste management, and how our withdrawal from the EU might affect recycling targets and legislation, were thin on the ground.

In a briefing paper published on 21st February, the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) – which represents businesses in the green economy – called for a national debate on setting “ambitious but realistic” recycling targets for 2025 to provide a post-Brexit framework for the resources sector.

Casepak echoes the EIC’s calls for ambitious recycling targets to be set. Recycling is essential to realising the Government’s desire for a new circular economy under its Industrial Strategy. To neglect the vital and leading role that our sector must play in realising this ambitious goal would be to consign the notion of the circular economy to the waste pile – it simply cannot be achieved without continued investment in our recycling and waste management infrastructure. Therefore this is very much a debate that our sector should be central to articulating, informing and championing.

The UK’s membership of the EU over the past 40 years has entailed an ever-increasing commitment to improve our resource efficiency and tackle the volume of waste that our society produces, in order to combat pollution and climate change. Over four decades the UK has made strong progress, helping to shed its mantle as ‘the dirty man of Europe’ and move to the middle of the league table.

To abandon our commitment to improving environmental sustainability would risk undoing all of the good work of the past and limit our capacity to continue to improve. Without the institutions of the EU to hold the Government to account, it is vital that recycling targets are set in order to create further impetus to drive our resource efficiency.

Committing to long-term recycling targets is also vital to provide certainty in our sector and the wider economy. Doing so will provide an investment framework for our sector to drive the UK’s progress towards ever-greater resource efficiency. This also presents a further opportunity to re-enforce the message of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to the public and commercial organisations.

The aim of creating a circular economy is admirable and desirable, though it is certainly not without its fair share of challenges. If the circular economy can be achieved, it will establish a robust platform for sustainable economic growth, contributing to the UK’s competitiveness and productivity. It is therefore vital that Government rhetoric is backed up by policy action, enshrined in legislation – targets are a good first step; at least then we know where we’re trying to get to. The next, and far more important, step will be to determine how we get there…