Published On: Tue, Sep 4th, 2018

UK, BREXIT and Waste Management: How does BREXIT Affect UK’s Pollution and Waste Management Strategy?

The recent history has been marked in the collective memory by UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Since then, 23 June 2016 has been known as the BREXIT Day. While this decision is due to impact the UK’s economy and policies in all their aspects, some concerned voices raise the environmental matter as one of the most urgent to be addressed. What is the UK going to do, from now on? Where will all its waste be going after BREXIT and how will UK adopt the new waste reduction and management policies to the new context? What are the waste management and recycling advantages that the UK will notice after BREXIT? But Disadvantages? Below is more information about all these matters.

photo/ DANIEL DIAZ via pixabay

Statistics and Data

Like in any other state of the world, there are certain standards and recycling rates that have to be met. In 2016, the recycling rates of household waste have increased, compared to 2015. The trend seemed to be a positive one. By 2020, the UK aims to recycle at least 50% of the household waste. But more data, below.

  • The UK household recycling rates increased by more than 45% in 2016, compared to 44% in 2015.
  • England seems to lead in terms of recycling, more than 44% of the waste generated in England being recycled, as compared to 43% in Northern Ireland, 42% in Scotland, but is situated behind Whales, which leads with a recycling rate of 53%.
  • In 2016, more than 8.5 million tons of waste was sent to landfill in the UK. Out of that quantity, more than 5 million tons of waste were categorised as “mixed municipal waste”.
  • More than 70% of the packaging waste across the UK, was either recycled or recovered.
  • More than 80% of the cardboard and paper was recycled in 2016, one of the highest recycling rates ever registered across the UK.


But as the numbers looked encouraging back in 2016, how does to future of waste management and recycling across the UK look in the BREXIT content? Most importantly, experts can already identify some advantages.

  • Without the strict recycling guidelines set by the European Union, the recycling rates will increase, as well as the number of viable waste management strategies.
  • New domestic regulations in terms of recycling and waste management will emerge. These will meet the specific situation of the United Kingdom, will be harsher than ever before and will be directly targeted at domestic and foreign manufacturers, shop chains and recycling enterprises. This may be initially perceived as a disadvantage but it’s a great approach to helping the planet in unexpected ways. These measures may include an extensive use of waste balers and compactors, to reduce the waste volumes and contribute to a more facile recycling process. In many cases, these measures will be more effective and easier to implement than the regulations imposed by the EU.
  • Citizens will have a word to say in terms of how the waste management and recycling matter should be approached. Their decisions will be analysed more closely and solutions will be found. The areas over which the citizens will have more control will be recycling and waste management processes used, which wasn’t previously possible when the UK was part of the European Union.


Like any other decision of an amplitude of this kind, there can’t be only positive outcomes. The recycling and waste management industry will also have to suffer in the post-BREXIT UK, as well as some recycling policies.

  • While there will be certain improvements across the Kingdom, mainly because of the lack of restrictions and severe regulations, the overall recycling and waste management policy might worsen.  Not all companies across the Kingdom will follow any more regulations in terms of recycling and waste management, as these won’t be mandated and imposed by the EU. In the pre-BREXIT era, for instance, all electronic manufacturers were imposed to follow incredibly strict rules, processes and standards and for now, it’s unclear how the new policies will regulate those.
  • An increase of landfill waste might be sensed in the post-BREXIT era. This might happen because, in the new context of flexible regulations, manufacturing companies might turn their attention to the easiest solution: landfills. This might reverse all the progress made by the UK in regards to landfill waste reduction. The waste management and recycling industry might be affected. Companies in the field will most likely sense a decrease in the volume of waste processes, due to similar reasons.

Waste Management, Recycling and Incineration

While waste management has been aided by UK’s affinity for incineration, the method puts a strain on the country’s recycling rates and strategy. Incineration motivates manufacturers and local governmental bodies to recycle less and focus on simply getting waste out of the way. According to authorities in the recycling and waste management sector, only the waste that cannot be recycled should be incinerated. But incineration operators across the UK have a different opinion. To put a stop on recycling they offer incentives to all companies that rather incinerate than recycle.

Another issue that can be identified is a large number of incineration plants across the UK. By 2021, it’s estimated that the UK would have to either stop recycling to keep those running, or start importing waste from other countries. While waste itself might disappear as a result of incineration, climate change will accentuate furthermore in the future. Air pollution, just as well.

But this phenomenon is not only present across the UK. Many of the neighbouring countries (see Sweden’s case) also have an increased affinity for incineration.

What Can Be Done?

The only realistic solution for the UK to achieve a perfect balance between recycling, incineration and other waste management strategies is to force policymakers and manufacturing companies to follow some strict regulations regarding the matter. A better implementation of these strategies might force all the parties involved to closely follow them.  

Author: Cynthia Madison

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