The long awaited revised EU Waste Framework Directive was finally brought into UK legislation by the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 in March this year. The Directive introduced the “polluter pays principle’ and included two new recycling and recovery targets. Under the Directive, the UK is required to recycle, compost or reuse 50% of waste from households, and 70% of construction and demolition waste; both to be achieved by 2020.

The UK has certainly seen an improvement in recycling rates in recent years. Households in England pushed through the 40% landmark for the first time between April 2010 and March 2011 and more companies became environmentally responsible.  These companies no longer have the luxury of voluntary action as they are now subject to a legal requirement to adopt a “waste management hierarchy’ whereby they must try to use raw materials more efficiently, reuse materials where they can and recycle materials that may have significant value but that are difficult to extract from waste.

In principle, it is impossible to argue with the notion that Member States should be doing everything in their power to reduce waste, however, if the ultimate aim for the UK is to have a “zero waste economy’, surely the government should deliver recycling services which actually facilitate that objective?

Local authorities seem to be doing very little to encourage, aid or recognise efforts by small businesses wanting to improve recycling rates. Many companies have not been made aware of national recycling goals or the fact that the changes apply to them. Furthermore, businesses are being denied access to local authority recycling facilities and being forced to go through expensive private contractors. Finally, companies that are already reusing rather than putting waste through formal disposal systems are not having their efforts recognised. Not only are these factors likely to depress recycling rates, non-compliance with EU targets will certainly result in heavy penalties, which we will doubtless start to see being passed on to businesses in the form of fines.

It seems that households in general have recognised recycling as part of everyday life and companies have realised that waste reduction makes business sense. All that remains is for the government to take the next pivotal step in bringing the UK closer to fulfilling its environmental obligations.

Farleys have a team of environmental law solicitors and are able to help you, either as a business or an individual, to ensure your full compliance with current regulations. Our expert solicitors can also assist if you are facing an accusation or Environment Agency Investigation for breach of environmental law.