Theresa May opposes new EU recycling targets – despite talk of a plastics crackdown

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Although Theresa May has recently called for a crackdown on the use of plastic, the UK government has been accused by Labour of behind the scenes attempts to scupper progress towards recycling targets. Sue Hayman, Labour’s environment spokesperson, made the claim in a letter to Michael Gove that outlined her concerns.

The 25 year environmental strategy recently revealed by Mrs May included a commitment not only to meet current recycling and waste targets, but also to develop new targets and to take action towards increasing plastic recycling and reducing single use plastics.

Current laws require EU nations to meet a recycling rate of 50 percent of municipal waste by 2020. The EU also proposes to increase the rate to 65 percent by 2035, to include 50 percent of all plastics.

Although plastic recycling rates in the UK have improved considerably over the past ten years, the rate has stalled recently and is currently at about 44 percent.

Six EU member states have met the target already and Germany currently recycles around 66 percent of its municipal waste. Member states who fail to reach the targets may face large fines.

During negotiations in Brussels, the EU’s new recycling targets have been opposed by the UK, despite Mrs May’s pledge to develop ambitious goals for recycling.

UK officials have allegedly informed their EU counterparts that the UK will not be able to support the 2035 target of recycling 65 percent of municipal waste, with one anonymous diplomat describing the UK as having been “quite blunt”.

At present, it is unclear whether the UK’s departure from the EU in March 2019 will mean that it can completely avoid the necessity of adopting the recycling target.

In July 2017, an internal DEFRA analysis estimated that the waste sector could save billions of pounds by 2030 if the UK’s recycling rate was increased to 65 percent. This would also create social savings and, by 2100, could save thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions. However, it was reported that this would mean a complete overhaul of the UK’s recycling system.

The Waste Framework Directive consists of laws regarding waste and recycling that are currently under negotiation in the EU and are constituent parts of the Circular Economy package. It has previously been revealed by Unearthed, part of Greenpeace, that soft drinks manufacturers and supermarkets lobbied DEFRA to oppose certain aspects such as deposit return schemes and other rules that would mean that the polluter paid for recycling.

Although a provisional agreement has been reached on the Waste Framework Directive by the European Council and European Parliament, the UK stated at a debriefing meeting that its support for this was not possible due to the municipal waste recycling targets.

The impact that the UK’s position will make in the agreement is uncertain, but since other EU countries have reached an agreement, it is unlikely to make much difference to the targets, although it might mean that implementation is delayed to some extent.

A spokesperson for DEFRA said that when the UK leaves the EU, there will be an opportunity to enhance and strengthen the country’s environmental standards through the delivery of a Green Brexit.

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