DEFRA: Waste firms will not get ‘free pass to landfill’ in no-deal Brexit

DEFRA has insisted that waste firms will still be required to follow the waste hierarchy in the event of a no-deal Brexit, despite having identified 18 million tonnes of spare landfill capacity to deal with a worst case scenario.

Speaking at a Brexit contingency planning workshop yesterday, which has been running in different cities across the nation, Heeran Buhecha Fordyce, DEFRA’s deputy head of resources and waste policy, said: “We will not be dropping our environmental standards as a result of Brexit. 

“We will expect waste to be handled in compliance with the waste hierarchy. There is not going to be a free pass... to landfill. We know at short notice this could be challenging, depending on your circumstances, which is why we advise you talk to your Environment Agency (EA), representative early and they can help you work through the potential options open to you.”

Despite the UK agreeing another Brexit extension until 31 January, Buhecha said it was “still prudent” that businesses were prepared for a no-deal Brexit. 

Steve Molyneux, a senior environment manager at the EA, told delegates that legislation around waste will not change from day one and “whether a deal had been agreed or not”, permits and licenses will be enforceable. 

“We expect companies and individuals to comply with those permits in terms of storage. There is no plan for increasing the capacity in permits. If companies do need more storage, those conversations need to happen with local regulators on a site by site basis.”

However, Molyneux said there was a risk of severe delays at the port of Dover and other ‘roll-on roll-off’ ferry ports, where hauliers travelling into Europe might not have the right paperwork, resulting in backups.

He said there were not the same risks associated with container ports such as Tilbury.

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He said Dover was a specific risk, accounting for the movement at least 40,000 tonnes of refuse-derived-fuel to Europe every month. There are “very limited” arrangements for parking capacity or turning lorries at Dover and the port could experience potential delays of between 3-6 months, he said. 

Molyneux added that a DEFRA survey of major landfill operators revealed there is approximately 18 million tonnes of spare landfill capacity in the coming months that would be able to deal with any additional waste load that had to be diverted.

The UK exports 4 million tonnes of notifiable waste each year, so the capacity gives ample breathing space, he said.

However, Molyneux added that landfill “shouldn’t be used as the first contingency plan” but should be “at the far end of the spectrum”, if supply chains were backed-up and the industry was unable to get waste out of the country, because it could lead to the risk of fires breaking out at sites.

“It would be great if we had five incinerators sitting there waiting to go, but the reality is that we don’t. The reality is that landfilling waste in extreme circumstances might be a better environmental option,” he added.

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