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Brexit ‘risk’ to UK recycling investment

Investment in waste and recycling infrastructure would be put at risk if the UK were to leave the EU, the head of the waste giant Suez has claimed, in response to an MPs’ report on the impact of EU environmental policy on the UK.

Voters are braced for a crunch referendum on 23 June to decide whether the UK should remain a part of the European Union or to break away.
The Environmental Audit Committee has claimed that the EU has significantly influenced the development of environmental law in the UK.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee today (19 April) published its report ‘EU and UK Environmental Policy’ which has come out strongly in favour of the UK’s continued membership of the Union.

The report was signed by all but one of the Committee’s 15 MPs, with Peter Lilley the Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden accusing the findings of ‘ignoring evidence’.

The report was published following a series of evidence hearings, with experts including Angus Evers of the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) among those to give evidence (see story).

Defra resources minister Rory Stewart also addressed the Committee in January, responding positively to the UK’s participation in Europe, but calling for ‘balance’ in the implementation of EU laws at a regional level (see story).

According to the Audit Committee the EU has a ‘long history’ of developing environmental policy to promote the Single Market and protect the environment.

The Committee claimed: “The overwhelming majority of our witnesses also believed that the UK’s membership of the EU has improved the UK’s approach to environmental protection and ensured that the UK environment has been better protected.”

Additionally the report concluded that a ‘large proportion’ of UK environmental policy is shaped at EU level, with the UK having ‘significant influence’ on the policy making process through the Council of Ministers and through its MEPs.


Responding to the report today, David Palmer-Jones, UK chief executive of Suez said that the EU is the “driving force” behind environmental policy that enables companies to invest in new services and infrastructure.

He said: “Should the UK referendum be decided in favour of a Brexit and the UK leave the EU, there is a clear risk that the current EU-led policy drives towards creating a circular economy within the UK will stall or even move back a step, which in turn could have a negative impact on future investment decisions into UK infrastructure.

He added: “The current EU-driven, UK household waste recycling rate target of 50% by 2020 has provided the underpinning for hundreds of millions of pounds of investment into recycling facilities and energy recovery plants, creating to date thousands of jobs in the UK. The EU is now considering a 65% household recycling target for 2030 and if this becomes a legally binding target across member states – including the UK – it would stimulate further investment and jobs in the UK.”

Mr Palmer-Jones, who is the current president of the European waste management trade body FEAD, also claimed that a move out of Europe could lead to a ‘re-evaluation’ of existing infrastructure investments.

Debate over the UK’s future in the European Union has begun to gather momentum within the waste sector, with senior figures coming out on either side of the argument.


Among those supporting a UK exit from the European Union is Neil Grundon, deputy chairman of Grundon Waste Management, who, writing in a column for said that a breakaway from Europe would free UK firms from the ‘burden’ of EU regulation (see story).

He wrote: “In my view, EU regulation is holding us back from competing on the global stage and, if we could get the policy and taxes right in the UK, we could achieve a lot more.

“For example, we often talk of European harmonisation on legislation but this is certainly not the case in our industry. The EU currently has over 12 different rates of landfill tax – the French alone have five different bands – so tax simplification has to be one remedy.”