The Environment Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 9 November 2021. It has taken its time to get here, with a general election, Brexit, a global pandemic, COP 25 and, most recently, COP 26, all taking place since the October 2019 Environment Bill. When it comes to waste, has it been a waste of time?
The Act is wide ranging, including provisions dealing with environmental governance, air quality and environmental recall, water and nature and biodiversity. Amidst the headlines about sewage, much of the coverage has missed what the Act says about waste and resource efficiency.
The Act opens the door to further new legislation by allowing the relevant national authorities to make regulations about:
- Producer responsibility obligations, including requiring payment towards the costs of disposing of products and materials
- The provision of resource efficiency information and resource efficiency requirements
- Deposit schemes and charges for single use items
- Managing waste
- Waste enforcement and regulation.
The Act also amends existing legislation, for example by amending the sections of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 dealing with the separation of waste, hazardous waste, the trans frontier shipment of waste, enforcement, and enabling the establishment of an electronic waste tracking system, as well as amending the powers under the Environment Act 1995 to make charging schemes.
The key impact of the Act on waste is what it says about what happens next.
Francesca Hodgson, Regulatory Legal Director, says:
"There has been criticism that COP26 overlooked the importance of waste and resource management. While there is no doubt more that could be achieved on a global scale, the wide ranging powers under the Act provide a vital opportunity to effect meaningful change at a national level. The extent of this change will become clearer once the powers under the Act start to be used."
"The introduction of electronic waste tracking could be a game changer. Waste tracking is currently very limited, which has an impact both on our ability to use insight about the life cycle of waste to reduce waste, and to deter waste crime. This information will enable much more targeted investigation and enforcement action."
Ashley Borthwick, Regulatory Legal Director, comments:
"The Act gives wide ranging powers to make regulations about who producer obligations should apply to and which products or materials should be covered. These powers are intended to prevent waste/reduce the amount of a product that becomes waste and increase re-use, redistribution, recovery and recycling. Producers can get ahead of these regulations, and minimise any eventual requirements to pay disposal costs, by designing products with these objectives in mind."
The Act is the latest part of the Environmental, Social and Governance landscape. See here for more information about the support we can provide on ESG issues.