The long-awaited Environment Bill returned to Parliament on 30 January 2020 after failing to complete its passage at the end of 2019.
In response to concerns that UK Environmental Protection standards will fall after Brexit; The Government claims the Bill will exceed EU. Standards, and set a ‘gold standard for environmental protection’.
Measures introduced by the Bill include:
- The creation of a new environmental watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection (“OEP”) - responsible for monitoring implementation of environmental and climate change legislation by government and local and public bodies. It will also be the enforcing authority should they fail to comply.
- Setting legally binding environmental targets for air quality, water, biodiversity and waste reduction.
- Environmental improvement plans to be developed, published and reviewed every five years.
- Five environmental principles at the centre of policy making which ministers must have ‘due regard’ to them when making policy decisions. These are: environmental protection; preventative action; precaution; environmental damage should be rectified at source and the ‘polluter pays’ principle.
- Though not a non-regression statement, ministers will have to state, when introducing new environmental law, that the new Bill will not reduce the current level of environmental protection or whether they are unable to make that statement but still want to continue.
- The Secretary of State will be obliged to report on significant developments in international environmental protection legislation every two years.
The Bill aims to drive a move towards a ‘circular economy model’ - maximising resource efficiency and preventing waste, which aligns with the development of legislation around single-use plastics. Some of the key measures include:
- Creating new extended producer responsibility schemes requiring producers to contribute to the disposal costs of the products they manufacture, process or supply.
- Requiring producers to provide information about their products’ resource efficiency and certain products to meet specified resource efficiency requirements.
- Establishing deposit return schemes where consumers pay an up-front deposit, which is then redeemed on return of the used item.
- Imposing charges on single-use plastic items, similar to the 5p carrier bag charge.
- A set list of recyclable material that must be collected from households and businesses to promote consistent waste collection services across the country.
- Introduction of an electronic waste tracking system to combat waste crime through greater transparency of the waste management system; and
- The restriction or prohibition of importing and/or exporting waste (including plastic waste) to developing countries.
With the government’s commitment to protecting and improving the environment for future generations, it is essential that companies understand their existing legal obligations and consider how future legislation will impact their business.