Policy News, October 2019

Highlights from the Queen's Speech, Resources & Waste, Energy and Environmental Compliance

The latest updates on the policies affecting your business.


  • Highlights from the Queen's Speech
  • Resources and Waste
    • Defra publishes the new Environmental Bill and sets out UK's new environmental priorities
    • WRAP Plastics Market report reveals a UK reprocessing infrastructure capacity gap
    • Single-use plastics debate  in the House of Lords: Peers call for faster action on reduction
    • Defra allocates £1 million to boost UK smart waste tracking
  • Energy
  • Environmental Compliance

Highlights from the Queen's Speech

The Queen's Speech forms part of the State Opening of Parliament ceremony and marks the start of the Parlimentary year. Addressing both Houses, the Queen formally presented the laws the Government wants Parliament to approve.

  • Environment
    The Government will establish new long term domestic environmental governance based on environmental principles, a comprehensive framework for legally-binding targets, a long term plan to deliver environmental improvements, and a new Office for Environmental Protection.

  • Infrastructure
    The Government will bring forward a National Infrastructure Strategy which will set out a long-term vision to improve the nation's digital, transport and energy infrastructure.

Resources and Waste

Defra publishes the new Environmental Bill and sets out UK's new environmental priorities

In October, the Government published the final draft of the Environment Bill. In terms of governance, the Bill creates a statutory footing for the 25 Year Environment Plan, introduces Environmental Improvement Plans and binding environmental targets. It legally enshrines various principles such as the polluter pays and precautionary principles. It creates the Office for Environmental Protection which is to be an independent watchdog with oversight and enforcement powers, based in Bristol.

In terms of environmental areas of focus the Bill includes provisions on:

  • Waste and Resource Efficiency: a commitment to deliver on the Resources and Waste Strategy and to implement a variety of waste-reduction schemes, such as charges for single-use items and a deposit return scheme (on-going).
  • Air quality: a requirement to consider a target to reduce PM2.5 in ambient air; a duty for the Air Quality Strategy to be annually reported on and reviewed at least every five years; and a requirement to recall products that do not meet relevant legal emissions standards.
  • Water: a commitment to ensure long-term security with regard to water and wastewater services. New initiative is the Government's ability to direct water operators to prepare joint proposals on how to meet current and future demand for water.

WRAP Plastics Market report reveals a UK reprocessing infrastructure capacity gap

WRAP released a Plastics Market Situation report on the state of the reprocessing infrastructure in the UK, revealing a capacity challenge. Key findings include:

  • UK domestic plastic recycling needs to increase but investment in reprocessing infrastructure is undermined by economic volatility.
  • Demand for recycling content in plastic packaging has increased and competition for recycled content across packaging and non-packaging applications is likely to increase.
  • The amount of plastic packaging collected by UK local authorities (LAs) is estimated to have increased by 10% since 2013/14 to 55kt. Nearly all LAs collect plastic bottles with around four out of five collecting at least some types of pots, tubs and trays. Finally, around 17% of LAs accepted empty carrier bags in 2017, with 10% accepting all types of plastic film.
  • Over the past decade the amount of plastic packaging on the UK market has been broadly stable and export markets closed the door on poor quality.

Single-use plastics debate in the House of Lord: Peers call for faster action on reduction

A debate on the single use-plastics was held in the House of Lords focusing on measures to reduce the consumption levels of single-use plastics. Cross-party Lords also asked why the Government is not acting faster. Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Defra, recalled the actions already taken (microbeads ban, single-use carrier bag charge etc), and emphasised that wherever possible one should reduce, reuse and recycle sensibly. He added that although there is an urgent need for action, shifts need to be thought through.

Note that Defra published the outcome of the consultation on banning the distribution and/or sale of certain single-use plastic in England. Next steps:

  • A ban on plastic drinking straws by April 2020, with exemptions to cater for medical and accessibility needs. Catering establishments will be prohibited from actively offering plastic straws to customers and will have to keep them behind the counter, available on-demand only.
  • A ban on the supply of plastic-stemmed cotton buds to the end-user by April 2020. Exemptions for use in medical practise, scientific research and forensic purposes to support criminal investigations.
  • A ban on the supply of plastic drink stirrers to the end-user in England by April 2020.

Note that the Scottish Government has confirmed its plans to legislate and introduce a charge on single-use cups. Earlier this year, the Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures has suggested a 20-25p charge.

Defra allocates £1 million to boost UK smart waste tracking

Defra allocated £1 million to Anthesis and Topolytics to build waste tracking prototypes, part of the Government's £20 million GovTech Catalyst fund which supports the development of innovative solutions. Both companies will create UK-wide digitised systems that will include all international waste shipments. Prototypes will be created in the next year. Topolytics will work with Ordanance Survey, Google Cloud and SAP to build a working version of a data-driven tracking system for household, municipal, commercial, construction and hazardous waste. It will draw up maps of the waste movement system across four areas of the UK. Anthesis' system for tracking waste is called Vastrum, It would digitise the current paper-based system of waste transfer notes, consignment notes and other documentation required by legislation. 


Towards new minimum energy efficiency standards for non-domestic private rented sector

The Government launched a public consultation to review the minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) for privately rented non-domestic buildings. The proposal aims to tighten the standards for commercial properties by 2030. The Government's preference is that the minimum standard should be an EPC band B by 2020, but it is also consulting on an EPC band C as an alternative (it is currently EPC band E). The Government is also seeking views on whether the route to the new MEES should be phased out or achieved in a single increase, as well as how to improve MEES enforcement. Consultation is open until 7th January 2020.

Environmental Compliance

Environment Agency publishes its annual report on regulation, compliance, enforcement

The Environment Agency has published it's annual report "Regulating for People the Environment and Growth". Main facts include:

  • Over 92% of operators were in highest compliance bands A and B in 2018
  • Permit compliance is gradually improving but the waste sector still needs significant improvement. In 2018, 3.6% of waste sector permits were rated D, E or F, compared with 1.7% averaged across non-waste sectors.
  • There were 533 serious pollution incidents in 2018 with an increased number of dry weather associated environmental incidents.
  • In the financial year 2018 - 2019, 912 illegal waste sites were stopped and 896 new were found.
  • 12,960 tonnes of unsuitable waste were prevented from illegal export.

The agency also released its 2018 report on compliance monitoring and enforcement activity of businesses affected by the Packaging Producer Responsibility Regulations.