CIWM is currently in the process of surveying its members on their professional opinions with regard to UK membership of the EU. However, CIWM’s corporate view is that European environment legislation has played an important role over the last two decades in driving progress on sustainable waste and resource management and wider environmental protection in the UK.

Looking forward, priority future policy areas such as resource efficiency and security, the circular economy, and climate change will require action at a level broader than national level. The EU can and does provide a valuable framework for collaboration and agreement at a European level and helps to ensure a level playing field for its Member States with regard to legislation and standards. It also facilitates the implementation of long-term policy frameworks that are not at the mercy of national party politics and electoral cycles.

In addition to the potential for ongoing uncertainty about future waste and resources policy, which creates an unwelcome barrier to investment in services and infrastructure, one of the challenges with this referendum is that we simply do not understand the full implications of a Brexit. With no information regarding the nature of the likely relationship with the EU should the UK opt to leave, and no impact assessment or contingency planning being offered up by Defra as the sector’s lead department, it is extremely hard to have an informed debate.

For example, in the event of an “exit” would the pursuit of a greener, lower carbon economy drop further down the Whitehall agenda and open up even greater policy and regulatory differences between the four UK countries? Would we engage with the EU Circular Economy package or see it as a threat to the deregulatory drive from the Treasury, which is much more concerned about reducing “red tape” burdens on industry? Might we repeal the legislation that transposed the Landfill Directive and allow austerity pressures on local authorities to squeeze out recycling efforts in favour of more pressing service areas?

We will not have answers to these questions until well after the vote and, in the event of an exit, some estimate that it could take much longer than the quoted two years to work out the new relationship with the EU and its 27 Member States, even at an overarching level; individual sectors will then have to carve out their own deals.

These layers of uncertainty regarding both the outcome and the potential implications could frustrate much needed future investment in resource and waste management infrastructure and could ultimately threaten the important progress made on this agenda in the UK in the last two decades.

Steve Lee is Chief Executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), the leading professional body for the waste management sector. CIWM is a non profit-making organisation dedicated to the promotion of professional competence amongst waste managers.

Last reviewed 29 March 2016