Export ban ‘will not cut waste crime’, RDF group claims

The RDF Industry Group has claimed that a blanket ban on waste exports would “in many scenarios cause more environmental damage” than the movement of international waste.

Calls for a ban on exports gathered pace last year, as even the Environment Agency’s chair Sir James Bevan said he was in favour (see letsrecycle.com story), as a means to tackle waste crime. Concerns over waste plastics were a particular reason for the idea of ban, but exports of RDF (refuse derived fuel) could get caught in any ban.

Now, the industry group, made up of 34 companies in the RDF supply and user chain, has argued that such calls “missed the point” as waste crime is largely caused by a “lack of enforcement” of the rules in place, rather than exports.

The group is calling for a “sound regulatory framework, as well as a more robust enforcement presence”, to ensure waste is properly managed, whether domestically or exported.

This includes a financial bond mechanism, “where operator payments are only released back to exporters once the receiving facility confirms treatment, which has ensured high levels of compliance for many years across the waste derived fuel sector.”

Export bans are not the right measure, and would have the opposite effect in some cases

– Andy Jones, RDF Industry Group

‘Ill- conceived’

Andy Jones, chair of the RDF Industry Group, said: “Rather than imposing ill-conceived export bans, regulations and enforcement should be implemented across waste and recyclate streams as standard. What matters most is optimal environmental outcomes and that waste crime is tackled effectively, whether domestically or abroad. Export bans are not the right measure, and would have the opposite effect in some cases.“

“Ringfencing waste treatment and disposal in one nation prevents opportunities for better environmental outcomes being realised in partnership with neighbours. For example, exporting waste derived fuel.”

Waste crime

According to the association, preventing waste from leaving a country with an “endemic waste crime problem” should not be conflated with tackling waste crime.

It highlighted the ESA’s 2021 report which identified that the national annual cost of waste crime has risen to nearly £1billion, with domestic fly-tipping and illegal waste sites together accounting for over half of the overall impact of waste crime. In contrast, illegal exports contribute just 5%.

Mr Jones added: “We are concerned to see issues around waste crime and illegal exports of materials being confused with the highly regulated and legitimate industry of WDF exports from the UK. The market failures we see are not due to exports, they are due to a lack of enforcement of the rules already in place.

“Greater enforcement of existing rules should always be a first step before targeting compliant industries with blanket bans. The amber system of prior notification and consent which controls WDF shipments is an excellent blueprint for enhancing compliance across other material streams.”