Environment Bill

Written evidence submitted by Policy Connect (EB44)

Environment Bill

I. Introduction

I.1. Policy Connect is a membership-based, not-for-profit, cross-party think tank. We bring together parliamentarians and government in collaboration with academia, business and civil society to inform, influence and improve UK public policy through debate, research and innovative thinking, so as to improve peoples’ lives.

I.2. We lead and manage an extensive network of seventeen all-party parliamentary groups, research commissions, forums and campaigns in key policy areas including: health; education & skills; industry, technology & innovation; and sustainability. We shape policy in Westminster through meetings, events, research and impact work. 

I.3. Policy Connect is submitting written evidence to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee on the Environment Bill based on our longstanding expertise in this policy area and the wide-ranging evidence and stakeholder base from industry, academia and the third sector we combine by managing the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (APSRG); the Sustainable Resource Forum (SRF); the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group (APPCCG); Carbon Connect (CC) and the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum (WSBF). 

II. Summary

II.1 We welcome the Environment Bill as a vital tool to set out the UK’s new legal framework for environmental matters and deliver the Government’s manifesto commitments to protect and improve the natural environment in the UK. We view the plans to introduce a deposit return scheme, create the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), restrict waste exports, establish a more consistent approach to waste collection and recycling, as well as formalise the principle of extended producer responsibility as positive developments. However, we argue that the Bill needs to be strengthened to ensure that the UK remains a world leader in delivering environmental protection now that we have left the European Union. Furthermore, we would argue that leaving aside EU membership issues, the UK has gaps in environmental governance and policy and this provides a n ideal opportunity to rectify  shortcomings in the existing legislation and policy framework. Based on our discussions with industry leaders, academia and the third sector, we have developed recommendations that ca n strengthen the Bill in the area of environmental governance, as well as waste and resource efficiency to ensure that the Bill sets the gold standard in environmental protection as the Government has pledged.

III. General 

III. 1 We welcome the list of powers that the Bill seeks to introduce. However, the Bill does not mandate action, or detail when and how powers will be used. This uncertainty is highly problematic for businesses, local governments and consumers, as it stops them from be ing able to adequately plan, prepare and invest . To ensure that the powers granted by the Bill are fully leveraged, and to reduce uncertainty for stakeholders, the Bill should make it ‘the duty’ of the Secretary of State to take action using the powers granted to them. This would mirror the language of the Climate Change Act 2008. 

IV. Environmental Governance

IV.1.  Environmental targets

Clause 1 of the Bill indicates that the Secretary of State must set at least one long-term target in the area of ‘resource efficiency and waste reduction’. However, this is a broad category and the Bill should provide more clarity and specificity. Clause 1 should be expanded to commit the Secretary of State to set at least one target in each of a number of more specific aspects of resource efficiency and waste reduction, including in:

· consumption reduction targets

· material specific collection and reprocessing targets

· split international export/domestic reprocessing targets (increasing to 100% domestic reprocessing by 2030)

IV.2. Environmental principles

The Bill currently sets out that Ministers of the Crown need to have ‘due regard’ to the (future) policy statement on environmental principles prepared and laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State. To ensure the application of environmental principles after December 2020’s deadline relating to the EU transition period , Clause 18 should be amended to require Ministers to apply, rather than merely have due regard to environmental principles. 

IV.3. Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) - Clause 21-40; Schedule 1-3

(a) Setting up the OEP as a new watchdog is an important measure to ensure the enforcement of environmental law in the UK after Brexit. However, as it is currently set out the Bill, the appointment of OEP officials and the funding of the body is dependent of the Secretary of State, severely limiting the OEP’s independence and ability to act as watchdog as the Government has promised. Furthermore, while the European Commis s ion has the power to refer Member States to the European Courts of Justice  - which can fine Members States found to have breached EU law - the OEP does not currently have the power to fine the Government, leaving the UK’s level of strategic governance and enforcement of environmental protection weaker than that of the EU. 

(b) Therefore, the Bill should be amended to in crease the leverage of the OEP  and guarantee its ability to hold the Government to account regarding the implementation of environmental law and compliance with environmental principles and targets, working with the Environmental Agency and Natural En gland. Furthermore, the Bill should grant the OEP the power to take legal action when absolutely necessary, all of which requires that the body is independent of Government and specifically not under the sponsorship of any one particular Department or Secretary of State: such sponsorship creates an atmosphere of financial and governance dependence. Instead, the Bill should strengthen the links between the UK Parliament and the Office for Environmental Protect ion to increase the independence of the OEP. 

V. Waste and Resource Efficiency

V.1. Producer responsibility

The Bill currently interprets the producer’s responsibility mainly in relation to end-of-life costs (recycling and disposal). However, the producer’s responsibility should be extended to include more than just the post-consumer stage of the product.  A ‘life cycle approach’ should be adopted with more emphasis on re-use and reduction, rather than simply design for recyclability. Clause 47-48 and Schedule 4-5 should be amended to ensure that in addition to responsibility for covering end-of-life costs, action will be taken on practices higher up the waste hierarchy when implementing producer responsibility obligations.

V.2. Resource efficiency

V.2.1. Resource efficiency information

(a) The Bill currently gives power to the relevant authority to make regulations about resource efficiency labelling for all products, enabling customers to have more information about the products they choose. However, this should be obligatory rather than optional. Therefore, Schedule 6 should be changed so that the relevant authority is obliged to make labelling mandatory.

(b) In addition, it is not clear if Clauses 49 and 50 related to Schedule 6 and 7 include water resource efficiency.  If this is not the case then the Bill should be amended to make provision for this.  Clauses 49 and 50 should enable legislation for introduction of water labelling, linked to minimum standards for all fixtures, fittings and water using products ( with the exception of those using recycled water).  Provision should be made to make this mandatory through changes to Part G of Building Regulations.

V.2.2. Deposit schemes

The planned introduction of the DRS is welcomed. However, it is important that any DRS introduced in the UK has nation-wide consistency. As the four nations of the UK have differing timelines in relation to introducing a DRS, there needs to be greater focus on ensuring the compatibility of the different national schemes. 

V.2.3. Single use items

(a) Currently, the Bill only seeks to introduce new charges on single use plastic items. However, many single use items are now made from other materials such as wood, which, similar to some plastics, may also not be reusable or recyclable and their use creates further environmental problems. Thus, Clause 52 should include the scope for charges for single use products to be extended to other materials.

(b) The Bill should also establish a clear definition of ‘single use’, in line with the definition used in the EU Single-Use Plastic Directive.

V.3. Managing waste

V.3.1. Transfrontier shipment of waste

(a) Clause 59 on the transfrontier shipment of waste gives the Secretary of State the power to prohibit or restrict the exportation of waste by destination. In the Queen’s Speech, a ban on the export of polluting plastic waste to countries outside of the OECD was set out. However, the capacity of certain OECD countries –such as Turkey– to deal with the UK’s plastic waste exports is questionable. Exports of plastic waste is an issue that is followed with great interest by the general public given the highly detrimental impact on the environment of poorly managed waste. Thus, instead of giving the Secretary of State the power to regulate the export of waste by destination, a set of quality assurance criteria should be created to determine which countries have the capacity to handle UK plastic waste exports safely. This would also avoid the risk of legal or public challenge.

(b) In addition to immediately ceasing the shipment of plastic waste to countries with low environmental standards, the UK should decrease its reliance on exporting plastic waste entirely, and instead invest in boosting domestic recycling and remanufacturing capacities. This could be done by setting split targets for plastic waste exports and domestic reprocessing, ultimately increasing the domestic target to 100% by 2030. 

V.3.2. End use register

The Bill should introduce an end use register for all recycled waste created. There is a notorious lack of reporting around the end destination of waste. In order to address this, the Bill should enable the post-consumer tracking of materials at their end of life. Therefore, the Secretary of State should be required to make a mandatory register that details the end use of all recycled waste, which would be open for public inspection. This increase in transparency would help boost consumer confidence in recycling.

V.3.3. The Bill should include a clause committing the Secretary of State to ensure all decisions relating to resources and waste are consistent with the UK’s commitments on carbon emission reductions and biodiversity recovery. This should help cross-government working in future and avoid the risk of legal challenge.  

VI. Water

VI.1 . Drainage and sewage management plans

We welcome the statutory requirement for sewerage undertakers to prepare and publish a Drainage and Sewerage Management Plan that would be assessed annually and revised every five years.  However, the industry currently produces Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans on a non-statutory basis.  The terms sewerage and wastewater are not interchangeable (sewerage generally refers to wastewater that includes human waste) and therefore the nomenclature should be changed to ‘Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans’ to include stakeholders with a wider focus than just sewerage.

VI.2 Water quality

Clause 81 gives the Secretary of State powers to amend or modify the standards by which the chemical status of water bodies are measured and the substances that are measured to determine th e health of these water bodies. This would allow standards to be modified and substances removed without public consultation or scientific review (outside that of the Environment Agency).  This clause should be amended so that standards cannot be lowered or substances removed without public consultation and independent scientific advice.

April 2020


Prepared 3rd November 2020