Yesterday saw the first Environment Bill in over twenty years as Defra seeks to show how the UK will lead the way in environmental governance after Brexit. Many of the policies are not new, having featured in the 25 Year Environment Plan and Resources and Waste Strategy, but the Bill provides the powers for the government to implement that vision it has laid out in these strategies.
Some of the key features of the Environment Bill include:
A new watchdog
A new Office for Environmental Protection has been created to provide the regulatory oversight currently provided by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. Government has proposed a range of powers for the body – far more than previously thought. It’s scope has also increased from covering just environmental law to climate law too, something techUK had campaigned for with the Broadway Initiative. It provides an extra degree of confidence that the UK will stick to the emissions reduction trajectory and environmental targets that it has committed to. There will be questions raised over its independence – currently Defra’s SoS has the power to appoint its chair and its budget. Expect significant debate on this point as the Bill works its way through Parliament.
Extended Producer Responsibility
The Bill outlines a range of new powers to enable government to reform Extended Producer Responsibility (or EPR) systems and introduce new ones. EPR is a concept where producers have financial responsibility for the collection, recycling and treatment of their products when they become waste. The tech sector is used to this already, with regimes already in place governing how used electronics, packaging and batteries are collected, recycled and paid for. However, government has committed to reforming these regimes. It’s consultation earlier in the year on packaging outlined a highly ambitious and radical change to the current packaging system. We can expect similar for batteries, electronics and electricals when it is consulted on next year. The Bill also stipulates a consistent set of materials that must be collected from all households in England.
Eco-design and resource efficiency
Making products more energy efficient and made in a way that consumes fewer resources has been an urgent priority for businesses, but there has been a perception that not enough is being done in respect to resource efficiency. The Environment Bill provides powers to enable government to set product design requirements for a range of different goods (though not for energy usage as that is governed by BEIS. Defra has included short lifecycles, spare parts availability, upgradability, repair and recyclability as determining factors for resource efficiency and products not meeting new requirements would be banned from sale. The Bill also provides powers to government to introduce new consumer labelling/information requirements to help consumers identify the most resource efficient products on the market.
Electronic waste tracking
One interesting element of the Bill is Section 34CA which allows regulators to mandate electronic waste tracking and imposing specific requirements on how this new system will work. The paper based waste tracking system has not prevented fraud and leakage and could also see real innovation in the real-time tracking for waste.
Digital devices are comprised of an array of materials and substances so rules around what can, and can’t be used in products, has implications for the sector. The Environment Bill has provisions in around chemicals, and specifically REACH. Defra has developed a UK version of the EU chemical regulation framework REACH for a post-Brexit UK. The Bill will allow Defra to tweak and amend the governing Statutory Instruments for UK REACH without primary legislation if the regulations and enforcement are not working as planned.
For more information about how techUK is working on environmental issues, or how the Environment Bill could impact you please get in touch using the details below.