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  • Dear Readers!

    Even after just a few months, 2019 is already panning out to be a year full of uncertainty. We are all having to face a variety of challenges. With many of these linked to climate change and the environment, they are automatically affecting the environmental services sector as well. The impact of climate change could be felt all around the world last year with countries being struck by floods, forest fires and drought – and experts are expecting more of the same this year. Both industrial and political decision-makers and consumers across the globe are well aware that urgent measures need to be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – something that has been further highlighted by the young Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, who has inspired schoolchildren to take to the streets on Fridays to get adults to finally tackle this problem. This will be a mammoth task as it involves nothing less than halting the loss of biodiversity and ensuring there are sufficient supplies of natural resources for future generations. And this is precisely what REMONDIS does by recovering high quality raw materials from waste. Indeed, there is no other individual measure that is so successful at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and conserving natural resources. And this is why we see it as our task to extend the reach of our services and pass on our know-how to others – especially to other countries – to promote resource-friendly recycling activities.

    Our industry is currently undergoing a technological change that will alter the way many things are done. As the world becomes ever more digital, it is inevitable that this technology will have an impact on our everyday lives as well as on the way we do business. The spread of digitisation, however, is creating its own new set of challenges. The political environment in many regions around the world is also changing which could hamper our cross-border efforts to promote sustainable development. This, of course, also includes the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the growing tensions between the so-called superpowers. We need the support of our politicians so that we can make the world that little bit more sustainable – whether it be the implementation of a Europe-wide landfill ban or the creation of an Ecodesign Directive that takes raw material efficiency into account as well as energy efficiency. All in all, the upcoming European Elections will be an important political milestone for Europe.

    REMONDIS is doing its utmost to turn these challenges into opportunities and to navigate through these stormy seas safely. We are marking out the way for sustainable success by investing in technology and growing our portfolio.

    You can find out more about our plans for the future by taking a look through this latest issue of REMONDIS AKTUELL – and discover how our customers can benefit from our strong and stable services in these volatile times. 

    Yours

    Egbert Tölle

Is a hard Brexit imminent?

  • While REMONDIS AKTUELL’s editorial team were putting the final touches to this latest issue at the company’s head office in Lünen, time was gradually running out in London, a good 500 kilometres due west, for Westminster to secure an orderly Brexit. 23 days before the UK is due to leave the EU, there is still no sustainable compromise in sight. A hard Brexit is appearing more and more likely. Uncertainty is growing – in the European waste management industry as well. REMONDIS also has branches in the UK. We spoke to Steve Patterson, managing director of REMONDIS UK, to find out how he thinks things will progress.

    Steve Patterson, Managing Director of REMONDIS UK

What’s going to happen to waste exports?

In a letter to the House of Lords sent at the beginning of 2019, Environment Secretary Michael Gove stressed that the majority of the notified waste exports from the UK will continue to be able to be shipped to the EU. In his letter, he wrote: “UK regulators have made substantial progress in agreeing with EU counterparts that shipments of notified waste which had previously received consent can, in a no deal scenario, continue to be shipped with no requirement for a new application by UK exporters.” Having said that, there is a great deal of insecurity among European partners regarding Brexit. Steve Patterson, managing director REMONDIS UK, put things into perspective for us.

Interview

Steve, regardless of your own personal opinion, what is your view of Brexit from a professional point of view?

Steve Patterson: First of all, we have to respect the decision made by a narrow majority of the people in the UK, whether we like it or not. After all, that is how democracy works. However, implementing this decision in detail is turning out to be a lot harder than most of us had expected. In particular, issues like the unobstructed trans-frontier shipment of waste didn’t seem to have been on anybody’s radar. Now we need to make sure we can prevent a state of emergency and ensure the free flow of waste material and commodities across borders.

The British environment secretary Michael Gove is playing down the possible consequences of Brexit for the recycling and waste industry. ‘Business as usual’ seems to be his current motto. Do you share his optimism?

Steve Patterson: I do believe that common sense will prevail in the end. Regardless of their outward optimism, however, the British Ministry of Environment is still preparing for possible bottlenecks. They’ve been looking for suitable landfills in the South of England to take any waste that doesn’t make it out of the country. The Environment Secretary has also announced that the volume of the approved storage areas might be extended at short notice in certain cases. In that respect, the motto is more like ‘hope for the best but prepare for the worst’.

And what would be the worst case scenario?

Steve Patterson: Technically, in the event of a hard Brexit, we could face problems with the exporting of waste and materials across our borders. While the regulators have stated that the necessary shipment permissions (Trans-Frontier Shipment Notifications) will remain valid, we’re still unclear how the customs controls will work and what additional costs and delays we could face. As everyone knows this would cause disruption and potentially a cost increase over utilising UK outlets for disposal – most likely landfill, as we don’t have the incineration capacity to cover all exported waste. This additional expense would lead to cost increases for customers as the industry adapted to the change. While the UK authorities have taken the view that waste export is a service and thus is tariff free, this position may not be accepted by receiving countries and it is currently unclear what customs tariff may be applied to the logistic element of the export.

How big a problem is that?

Steve Patterson: The UK mainly exports refuse derived fuel (RDF) to continental Europe. About 3.6 million tons a year. Every month, around 40,000 tons are shipped through the port of Dover alone. And that’s just 15% of the total amount. If that material were to pile up on the roads to the ports, we’d have a major problem. However, there is room for optimism. Most of our exports from the UK are shipped to Sweden and the Netherlands. Sweden has now agreed that we can continue to export under the current TFS without the need for a new TFS in the event of a hard Brexit. This is good news and if the Netherlands and Germany agree this will put us in a better situation if a hard Brexit occurs. The receiving authorities in countries accepting RDF have generally all accepted this principle now. Around 98% of the RDF flow will not be affected by any changes in the TFS documentation. The current issue is how the customs position will be managed i.e. how we will achieve clearance at the port, what documents are required and what tariffs or duties might apply.

Do you expect a long-term impact on the British-European circular economy?

Steve Patterson: Economic turmoil is never good for long-term investments, regardless whether it is caused by Brexit or a general economic downturn. If the economic downsides can be limited through a ‘softer’ Brexit, then we should be able to continue the circular economy journey. Recycling and the circular economy have a higher profile in the UK than ever and my belief is that the public will want to see the UK continue these developments. In the longer term, my view is that after some changes – maybe a delay, a new election or even a change in political leadership – we will enter a transitional period and spend a number of years rebuilding many of the systems and processes that we will lose through Brexit. I hope that the impact of Brexit will be a bump in the road for our industry in the UK rather than something more severe.

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