It’s not all doom and gloom. The alternative 2020 environmental compliance report.
In the space of two months, the world has changed drastically. From the utter tragedy of the Australian wildfires, the finality of leaving the EU, and the ongoing unknowns of the coronavirus, it shows how we must all work together for a better world. It seems these actions have contributed in some part to major reactions, as I’d like to point out in this piece as I highlight some of the major breakthroughs we’ve achieved so far this year.
Major Environmental Legislation Change – Jan 30th
We are pleased to see that the Government reintroduced the Environment Bill into Parliament at the end of January. This bill is a huge forward step and will enable the UK to embed sustainability into the UK’s new economic model, helping to stabilise and restore the natural environment whilst figuring out our future independent of the EU.
The Environment Bill will take a look at:
- Setting legally-binding targets for air pollution, waste, biodiversity and water resource protection
- Embedding DEFRA’s 25-year Environment Plan into statutory law
- Designing and stating the core environmental principles for any future policies
- Introducing a new Office for Environmental Protection which will monitor national progress and public authorities to ensure we all comply with climate and environmental laws
- Commitment to review developments in international environmental laws biannually and see whether they could benefit the UK
Overall, I’m quite impressed with the bill. It seems that pressure from countless organisations and bodies has encouraged the Government to present an ambitious plan that can engage all parts of society for the benefit of all parts of society. I’m also keen to see the Government embed the five requests made by IEMA about the environment bill:
- Objectives to bind the Bill’s policy and governance processes into a commonly understood direction
- Transparent criteria and processes for setting targets and interim targets
- Requirements that mechanisms are in place to enable targets to be met
- Provision to enable consistent local environmental planning and prioritisation towards the long-term targets
- Provision of a simplified business planning mechanism for organisations to factor the environment into their activities
While the Bill applies to England only, more than half of its measures, such as those designed to improve recycling rates, are designed to apply across the UK, with the consent of devolved administrations.
This will help the UK deal with the major environmental challenges faced together, and aligns strongly with the priorities of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
On the same day, the government announced £8 million of funding for eight new research projects that will explore new and different ways of making, using, and recycling plastics.
The government is also investing £20 million to tackle plastics and boost recycling: £10 million more for plastics research and development and £10 million to pioneer innovative approaches to boosting recycling and reducing litter, such as smart bins. This is in addition to the £20 million for plastics research and development through the Plastics Innovation Fund announced in March 2018.
The new Waste and Resources Strategy showing its merit
At the end of 2018, the Government’s Waste and Resources Strategy was revealed and welcomed by the majority of the recycling sector. It contained some ambitious targets, some which we are starting to see, and some which will be introduced during 2020. The main points were:
- Businesses and manufacturers will be made to pay the full net cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste
- Consumers will be made to pay an up-front deposit on drinks sold in single-use containers (redeemable upon recycling)
- Information about what people can recycle in their local collection will be clearer and simpler to avoid confusion and contamination
- Councils will try to be more consistent and align with one another to avoid confusion and discrepancies
- Weekly food waste collections
- Smart waste tracking and smarter KPIs for councils, taking into account that each municipal area varies massively
- Higher competency requirements for the individual who is personally responsible for waste management in a particular business
- More support for the Extended Producer Responsibility scheme
- Transitioning from weight-based recycling goals to impact (carbon footprint) based recycling goals
The strategy sits alongside the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, the recently published Bioeconomy Strategy, and the Clean Growth Strategy which sets out how the UK is leading the world in cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change and driving economic growth. It relates to UN SDG 12 as a primary focus, as well as 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15.
Policy experts at IEMA have said that the new strategy, which seeks to achieve a zero avoidable waste economy by 2050, phase out avoidable plastic waste by 2042 and eliminate food waste from landfill by 2030, is a much-needed and welcome move. They “commend” the Government for seeking to integrate higher targets for waste and recycling – in line with the EU’s circular economy package – and for setting out targets on resource productivity through efficient manufacturing processes.
In a related recommendations paper published earlier in 2018, IEMA advocated the need to set resource utilisation against economic indicators. IEMA’s report said that instead of focusing on waste minimisation, these indicators would help to showcase the business case for minimising resource use while promoting resource productivity
Packaging changes to be expected
One of my favourite updates in 2020 is the Packaging Producer Responsibility Monitoring report, which looks at how the Environment Agency monitors businesses affected by the Packaging Producer Responsibility Regulations. This change is going to massively increase accountability by allowing the EA to make sure that:
- packaging producers in England contribute to EU Packaging Directive recovery and recycling targets
- all obligated producers register
- producer compliance schemes fulfil their statutory duties on behalf of producer members
- they provide accurate data on the packaging that’s handled, recovered and recycled in the UK
- there’s accurate data on registered producers
- treatment, recovery and export operators comply with accreditation conditions
- waste packaging is recycled and recovered to directive standards
- waste packaging is not directed through illegal routes
They can achieve all of this by:
- desk-based assessments and reviews
- validation checks on data submissions
- data trend analysis, looking for fraudulent behaviour, errors and anomalies
- site inspections
‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ (EPR) is a powerful environmental policy approach through which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-use stage.
This incentivises producers to design their products to make it easier for them to be reused, dismantled and/or recycled at the end of life.
EPR is considered to be a crucial tool in moving waste up the hierarchy, and stimulating secondary markets. It has been adopted in many countries around the world, across a broad range of products, to deliver higher collection, recycling and recovery rates. The most successful schemes use a range of measures to encourage more sustainable design decisions at the production stage.
Ultimately the objective is to transition the UK to a circular economy. Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. It is based on three principles:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems
Clean Air Strategy 2019 coming into force
Air pollution is becoming a huge problem around the world, especially in major urbanised areas, where toxic PM2.5 levels are so far beyond safe that deaths are being commonly attributed to the air itself. In the UK, I’m pleased that the Clear Air Strategy was introduced in 2019, and that 2020 will begin to see the beginning of changes to how we treat our air.
As part of the changes, we can expect to see:
- Diesel being phased out
- Targets on aviation pollution
- Maritime and rail changes to reduce air pollution
- Household PM2.6 enforcement
- Industrial emission limits
- Regulations for medium-sized combustion plants
- Cities introducing low-emission zones and clear air zones
This strategy focuses on UN SDG 3 as the main focus but also relates to 7, 8, 9, and 11.
Transparency on the issue of air pollution is key, so I’m pleased to report that the Government will:
- provide a personal air quality messaging system to inform the public, particularly those who are vulnerable to air pollution, about the air quality forecast, providing clearer information on air pollution episodes and accessible health advice
- back these goals up with powers designed to enable targeted local action in areas with an air pollution problem
- work with media outlets to improve public access to the air quality forecast
- work to improve air quality by helping individuals and organisations understand how they could reduce their contribution to air pollution, showing how this can help them protect their families, colleagues and neighbours
Net biodiversity gain
Biodiversity Net Gain is an approach to development that leaves biodiversity in a better state than before – it relates to SGD 14, 15 and 13. Where a development has an impact on biodiversity it encourages developers to provide an increase in appropriate natural habitat and ecological features over and above that being affected in such a way it is hoped that the current loss of biodiversity through development will be halted and ecological networks can be restored.
At the start of 2019 a 10 week Government consultation concluded on the topic of Biodiversity Net Gain. The consultation had three major aims:
- Define what the objectives would be for a net gain policy for the environment and how it would affect house building, commercial premises, and local infrastructure, and if biodiversity loss could be compensated for or mitigated against
- Effectively define what Biodiversity Net Gain means and how it works, and if a mandatory policy would benefit sustainable development, communities, and developers alongside the environment.
- Consider whether a mandatory approach could be implemented and whether it would be the most appropriate mechanism.
In the spring of 2019, the Government concluded that they would mandate Biodiversity Net Gain, which is why I’ve included it in this article. The new Environment Bill (as mentioned at the start of this article) has included this topic meaning that future constructions in the UK must deliver an overall increase in biodiversity.
Biodiversity net gain still relies on the application of the mitigation hierarchy to avoid, mitigate or compensate for biodiversity losses. It is additional to these approaches, not instead of them. Put simply, it involves the use of a metric as a proxy for recognising the negative impacts on habitats arising from development and calculating how much new or restored habitat, and of what types is required to deliver sufficient net gain.
Given the importance of biodiversity, which in many areas is declining, it’s crucial that action is taken to halt biodiversity loss and embed policies that will lead to restoration and enhancement.