How will Brexit affect the UK’s transition to a circular economy?

19th March 2019 | Recycling

The objective of the circular economy is to move away from a linear throw-away system toward one in which depleting resources are reused to maximise their potential and minimize waste. Recycling plays a key role, reflected in one of the EU’s pan-European objectives to reach 50% of reused or recycled residential waste by 2020. It is difficult to overestimate the role the European Union has played in the protection of the circular economy in the UK: around 80% of the UK’s environmental laws have been created by the European government.

But with the March 29 deadline now less than two weeks away, and Theresa May still unable to successfully pass a deal through parliament, there are doubts about the future of the circular economy in the UK. The EU’s latest Circular Economy Package will not come into full force until after the currently scheduled exit day and, dependent on the type of Brexit deal achieved, the UK may or may not be obliged to keep to these targets.

Circular Economy

Before the start of the 21st Century, recycling was relatively peripheral to UK society. This shift, in policy and culture, was prompted by EU regulation that resulted in a national strategy to deal with waste in 2000 and the subsequent introduction of statutory recycling targets. In 2011 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs outlined 13 actions the country needed to take to move toward a zero-waste economy. These commitments also largely stemmed from EU laws.

But progress in recent years has halted. The rate of household waste recycling fell to 43.7% between 2016 and 2017: the UK may now fail the EU’s 50% objective for 2020. This indicates the need for legally binding legislation. In 2018, the EU drew up ambitious goals, like all plastic packaging being recyclable by 2030. Its Revised Legislative Framework on Waste demands 70% of packaging waste to be recyclable by 2030, as well as 65% of urban waste by 2035.

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