The Environmental Regulation Unit moves from BIS to Defra

24th March 2016 Posted by

The news that the Environmental Regulation Unit located within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) will transfer to Defra on 1 April 2016 is to be welcomed.  Covering the majority of EU producer responsibility (PR) legislation enacted in the UK (batteries, WEEE, end of life vehicles, and parts of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive) the Unit’s rightful place is within a consolidated team sitting in Defra.  After all, PR is primarily “a strategy designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with goods throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products”, according to the OECD.  PR is applied on the business community, but it is primarily environmental legislation. 

Implementing PR from within BIS has always been regarded by SUEZ to be inappropriate.  As early as 2006, in our response to the government’s consultation on Waste Strategy 2000, we commented on the question: How can businesses be engaged in their capacity as purchasers and providers of services, that “[the Department of Trade & Industry] as the lead department responsible for businesses has signally failed to tackle this issue – hardly a surprise given its ambivalent stand on environmental protection versus burdens on industry.  If the UK is to make any headway it is essential that waste policy and specifically, implementation of EU waste and product-related legislation is brought under one roof – Defra”.  It has taken 10 years, but it is the result that matters!

The Unit’s performance over the years has hardly been stellar, a function of a skeleton staff and lack of in-depth expertise and knowledge of waste matters.  Consolidating the Defra and BIS teams may help move towards critical mass, but the complexity of PR legislation, coupled with the fact that PR may well be expanded as a preferred policy option in transitioning to a circular economy, suggests that staffing and resources should be revisited.   A wider issue is the fact that the Unit also had a hand in designing strategic waste policy related to ecodesign and product policy.  Waste policy is spread thinly across Whitehall Departments as it is – Secretary of State Eric Pickles’ interventions from DCLG being but one example – so one hopes that this consolidation signals the start of a serious discussion within government, to bring waste and resources matters under one roof.

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