Millions of tonnes of landfill capacity 'ready to go' in no-deal Brexit scenario, says EA

There is 18.9 million tonnes of landfill capacity “ready to go” in the UK in preparation for a no-deal Brexit, according to the Environment Agency’s (EA) senior adviser on waste.

Speaking to delegates at a Brexit contingency planning workshop earlier this week, the EA’s waste expert Graham Winter said that the biggest landfill spaces left in England were in Cumbria and Lancashire (5.9Mt) Kent and south London (3.2Mt) and in Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk (2Mt), which would allow the UK to landfill up to at least 31 March next year. 

Winter said the EA had been in touch with companies over landfill space and had projected where there would be room to bury waste in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which would need to happen in the short-term. 

Brexit "uncertainty" has been blamed for the decline in refuse derived fuel (RDF) exports – in the first six months of this year England exported 1.2Mt, which was a 10.1% reduction on the 1.4Mt in the first half of 2018. 

But delegates at the event were also told by DEFRA that the UK’s "fairly limited" energy-recovery capacity would not be able to cope with an influx of waste if export markets were disrupted under a no-deal Brexit. 

DEFRA added it had no plans to provide the energy-from-waste sector support.

Speaking at the workshop, DEFRA’s head of EU exit strategy, resources and waste division, Kathryn Arnold, said: “Extra landfilling [will be needed] for a short time to prevent disruption. It might be the last resort, in some cases, but in the first few days after Brexit landfilling will be needed.”

When asked by a delegate if the government would support businesses with the extra cost of landfilling waste due to any disruption to exports, Arnold added: “There are no plans for government intervention. No plans for sector support.”

The workshop also heard that as RDF is counted as a good it may well be subject to import duties and VAT in the EU. Clarification on whether or not import duties and VAT will be charged will need to be sought from the Member State of import, delegates were told.

Arnold also said exporters should still follow the waste hierarchy and store waste until export or recovery options become available where they can, but added “in extreme cases” waste would have to be disposed of in landfill.

Border delivery group policy adviser, Elayne Carr, also speaking at the event, said disruption might last for “up to three months” at UK ports and would be worse if France imposes “EU mandatory controls on the UK from day one”.

Carr further explained that queues in Kent could stretch to 8,500 HGVs in a “reasonable worst-case scenario”, which she said could mean HGVs taking “up to 2.5 days” to get through ports such as Dover.

A version of this story first appeared in ENDS' sister title ENDS Waste and Bioenergy

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