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Sites with waste exemptions should continue without need for permit, says The Recycling Association

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The Recycling Association has written to Environment Minister Rebecca Pow asking her to reconsider whether low-risk facilities that currently operate under a waste exemption should need to apply for a new permit.

In the letter, The Recycling Association has asked that existing facilities that operate under a waste exemption are able to exercise a ‘grandfather’ right that would enable them to be granted a permit under current operating conditions.

Under the rules that were consulted on in 2018 and are due to be consulted on by the Environment Agency this autumn before proposed implementation in April 2024, sites that currently operate under the exemption will need to meet new stringent criteria.

For many small- and medium-sized companies, this could mean significant investment, delays as a result of requiring planning permission to make changes to their facilities, plus closure to facilities while construction takes place.

The Recycling Association chief executive Paul Sanderson said: “I have written to Environment Minister Rebecca Pow as this move to permits is causing a lot of worry and concern among our members.

“Some of these businesses have been operating successfully for generations, but many expect that the investment required will be above 7-figures. At a time of rising costs, when added to the hassle factor of some requiring planning permission, many are wondering whether they might be better closing their company.

“Therefore, I have asked the Minister to consider granting grandfather rights to these companies that would allow them to continue operating under the current regime. In return, these businesses would pay increased fees to the Environment Agency each year to cover the cost of more regular inspections. They would also provide more data on the tonnages they process through their facilities. All new facilities would need to be under the proposed waste permit regulations. 

“At a time when we are looking to build a circular economy and requiring investment in recycling, we cannot afford as a nation to put in measures that will force the closure of SME recycling companies. 

“When the consultation was undertaken in 2018, it was a very different time. Since then, we have had Covid, we’ve seen the invasion of Ukraine by Russia lead to higher costs, and the economic situation and market conditions globally are tougher. Additionally, as the initial consultation was five years ago, there was a lot of surprise that these measures had been suddenly revived. 

“We need a re-think on these measures to ensure that these businesses that provide essential services to local authorities and commercial and industrial customers are not lost.”

The letter sent to Environment Minister Rebecca Pow:

Rebecca Pow MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Environmental Quality and Resilience)
Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Seacole Building
2 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DF                                                                                           8 September 2023

Changes to Environmental Permits and Exemptions

Dear Rebecca,

I would like to raise a serious matter that could severely harm or put out of business hundreds of long-established recycling businesses across England.

The majority of these are successful small- and medium-sized firms that serve local authorities and commercial and industrial businesses in the area in which they are based and beyond. Many of these are family firms that are rooted in their communities and have been for generations.

Most of these companies currently operate facilities under a waste exemption allowing them to run their business and undertake low-risk activities without the need to register for an environmental permit.

As you will be aware, there was a consultation in 2018 on this, and I understand there will be another consultation from the Environment Agency this autumn with it planning to introduce permits from April 2024. But as this initial consultation was five years ago, many were taken by surprise that the changes were going to be implemented. 

These proposed measures were recently communicated by the Environment Agency to our Members via a webinar which we hosted, and it caused panic. A large number of our Members have subsequently hired environmental consultants on the work that will be needed to meet the requirements of a permit and the majority have been told the work to install concrete walls, higher kerbsides and other measures will likely lead to 7-figure investment. 

As a result of Covid, higher costs resulting from the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and generally tough market conditions, a number of our Members have said they will likely close their business as the investment isn’t worth making. 

Many of these will also need to go through the planning process in their local area due to the significant changes that will need to be made to their sites. It is also a reality that many will need to close their site in order for construction work to take place, hitting their cashflow. 

At a time when we should be investing in recycling infrastructure to meet the Government’s priorities as part of the Resources & Waste Strategy and Environment Act, this move from 

exemptions to permits is likely to severely impact the local infrastructure available across England and Wales. As a Government committed to free trade, I hope you will also recognise that measures introduced by Government that leads to businesses closing will likely reduce competition and lead to higher costs for the public and commercial and industrial customers.

Therefore, we ask that you consider that recycling facilities that currently exist under an exemption are granted a permit under a ‘grandfather’ clause. Currently, it is free to register waste exemptions, such as a T4 that many of our Members operate under, and this is for a period of three years. However, Members have communicated to me that they would be happy to pay a small fee each year to the Environment Agency if additional inspections of ‘grandfathered’ sites were required. This could be equivalent to the price of a permit. The benefit of this would be that these businesses would continue to operate, there would be an additional revenue opportunity for the Environment Agency, while these sites would be better regulated than before.

At present, sites currently under exemptions do not need to register the tonnage processed, but we would be happy for them to be required to submit data on this as part of the ‘grandfathering’ of an exemption. This would enable Defra to get all of the data it needs to paint a better picture of commercial and industrial waste, without risking the businesses of our Members.

For any new sites, The Recycling Association would be happy for these to meet the requirements of the new permitting rules.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for taking the time to consider this, and if there is any way I can be of assistance, please do get in touch.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Sanderson
Chief Executive, The Recycling Association