What does new UK waste legislation mean for your local authority?


If you were caught up in the Christmas rush, you may have missed the government publishing two of the most important updates to UK waste management in over a decade: a draft Environment Bill and a new Resources and Waste Strategy.

Although these weren’t new announcements – the Prime Minister previewed an upcoming Environment Bill in July last year, in response to Brexit – the impact this legislation will have on local authority processes could be significant.

Now the documents have been published, let’s take a closer look at the impact on current systems and processes, and what it may mean for your waste management team…

Incorporating EU principles into UK legislation

The foremost thing that the Environmental Bill sets out is which policies currently managed within European legislation it wants to prioritise following Brexit. For example, precautionary principle – a key factor when deciding environmental management policies – and the polluter pays principle are set out entirely through EU treaties at present, with no reference in UK law.

The government’s aim, therefore, is to create a precedence within domestic legislation. This will ensure that existing principles are still considered when parliament is developing new environmental policies or updating existing laws.

In addition, a new Resources and Waste Strategy in England will come into force, designed to tackle the stagnating levels of household recycling. New policies include placing responsibility for packaging management on manufacturers, who will need to pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their product wrapping – in the hope that this will encourage them to improve the way in which they package items.

Looking after the world for the next generation

When Michael Gove published the Environment Bill in December, he announced that “our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than that in which we found it”. As a result, the document sets out a 25 Year Environment Plan (YEP) with some ambitious targets for managing waste resources and improving air and water quality.

While the aim of protecting the environment has been applauded, some critics have questioned where the resources will come from to meet the 25-year goal. “These proposals will require a clear commitment to a level of funding,” remarked Labour shadow environment secretary, Sue Hayman, adding that she will “scrutinise the proposals line by line to ensure that this bill becomes more than just a fig leaf.” 

Environmental protection is in new hands

Another new government proposition is that the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP), an independent UK watchdog, will be set up to take over the duties currently carried out by the European Environment Agency.

This body will have the power to take action on any public authorities involved in environmental law breaches. However, its lack of impartiality has been criticised by some organisations – including the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) and Wildlife Trusts – because the OEP’s chairman will be whoever is environment secretary at that point in time.

What does this mean for local authorities?

While there’s still a lot to be ironed out, the basic principles of this new legislation are clear: we need to look after the environment, and everyone needs to do their bit.

Although specific responsibilities for reducing waste and enhancing recycling are set to fall with manufacturers, local authorities will need to ensure they have an efficient process in place for managing waste as effectively as possible – or risk coming under the radar of the OEP.

The more that municipal waste management teams can do now to improve systems and processes, the better prepared they will be to meet future targets. And making positive change starts with having the right platform in place to run a well-coordinated operation.

Your local authority can improve the way it handles municipal waste management with Whitespace. Our software can be used for anything from simple tasks to demanding workflow processes and integrations, reducing paperwork and improving services for your residents.

Book a free Whitespace demo to see how our software can help you meet your waste management targets – no matter how ambitious.

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