New research from the People’s Vote campaign shows that crashing out of the EU with No Deal could lead to rubbish piling up on the streets within weeks.
The campaign has uncovered information that shows that councils are preparing for a post-No-Deal world where road chaos and fuel shortages could lead to cancelled refuse collections, while government instructions to local authorities and companies emphasise the risk that complex refuse processing and recycling chains will break down completely.
Commenting, Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee and leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said:
“Margaret Thatcher understood a basic fact about politics: governments that cannot get the rubbish collected get thrown out of office. In 1979 she won power in the aftermath of a Winter of Discontent that saw rubbish piled on the streets and voters disgusted.
“Boris Johnson seems to have forgotten this fundamental reality of political life. He is determined to press ahead with a No Deal crash out that threatens to see a return of what civil servants have called ‘putrefying stockpiles’ of uncollected refuse. After 40 years in which a European-wide economy of waste treatment and recycling has emerged, No Deal would leave us stranded without the capacity or the capability to keep our own streets clean over any length of time.
“This People’s Vote research shows that the shock to the waste control system could be deep and long-lasting, with chaos on the roads in Kent and fuel shortages across the country creating a refuse backlog that could last for a long time after Halloween.
“In the end No Deal might turn the clock back to a time when all the rubbish that wasn’t burnt was simply thrown into landfill, with all that means for safety, and air and water quality. A No Deal could quite literally inject poison into our environment.
“Boris Johnson and the Leave campaigners he has installed in Downing Street are ready to inflict No Deal on the rest of us, despite the threat to the environment, even though they sold Brexit on the basis they’d get a great deal. Their destructive Brexit is a million miles from what they promised in 2016.
“Now we know so much more about what his Brexit would mean - whether you want stay in Europe or leave – it’s only fair to demand that we all have our voice heard in a final say referendum. Anything else is just rubbish.”
Refuse export blocked
There are serious concerns about Britain’s ability to export waste to Europe in the aftermath of a No Deal Brexit. Councils, central government and waste companies are all concerned that delays at ports, as well as possible regulatory changes, could make it difficult, or even impossible, to export waste to Europe, causing a pile-up of refuse on British streets.
Earlier this year the government told companies in the UK that export waste to Europe to “review their contingency plans in case of disruption at ports, should the UK leave the European Union without a deal.” Even though the government claimed they had “secured an agreement that all UK consents for shipments of notifiable waste that go beyond 31 October 2019 will be rolled over,” they also said that “In the eve of No Deal, changes to border controls may impact on some waste exports.”
The government have also told companies to “review your own capacity and how long you can store waste on your site” and to “identify alternative storage facilities that could accept your waste” (link).
Emails from the Environment Agency, leaked to the Guardian, revealed that officials were preparing to deal with “[p]utrefying stockpiles” of rubbish after a No Deal crash out. An Environment Agency source, quoted in the piece, said, “It could all get very ugly, very quickly” (link). The Environmental Agency also says that “the challenge of illegal waste activity may well increase, should the United Kingdom leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement”, because “much of our waste is exported for recycling and recovery overseas either legally or illegally and any disruption to transport arrangements could create incentives for criminals to dispose of it illegally in England instead.” (link)
The government has even said that businesses will be able to accumulate more radioactive waste than their permits allow after Brexit, due to fears that leaving the EU could make it harder to transfer such waste to facilities outside the UK. Radioactive waste is strictly controlled and businesses who produce it must acquire permits which limit how much they can accumulate. But in an RPS (regulatory position statement) released on the 1st of April, the Environment Agency has said that businesses “can temporarily store radioactive waste in excess of these limits at your permitted premises” so long as they meet certain conditions (link).
There is also concern that a combination of gridlock and fuel shortages in the immediate aftermath of a No Deal Brexit could make it difficult for councils and contractors to collect household waste normally. For example, Gravesham Council, in its corporate risk register, warns of “difficulty in delivering services due to disruption to the road network as a consequence of increased border and customs checks on port freight traffic. Disruption in particular to waste collection and disposal and to staff ability to reach their usual place of work” in the event of No Deal (link). Peterborough Council also warns about “Potential shortage of fuel supplies would impact on staff travelling to deliver services” in their Brexit Impact Assessment (link).