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Almost two years after the Environment Bill had its first reading, it has finally been passed into law, becoming the Environment Act 2021. This article highlights the key points being introduced by what the government is calling “world-leading legislation.”
The aim of the Act is to focus on protecting and enhancing the environment through regulating improvement of air and water quality, tackling waste, increasing recycling, and improving the natural environment.
In particular, legally binding targets will be set for the following core areas: waste and recycling, clean air, nature, and water - it is hoped these changes will assist in transitioning to a more circular economy.
A major change the Act brings is the establishment of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). The OEP will now hold governmental and public bodies to account on their environmental obligations.
With the OEP already operating on an interim basis, it will be interesting to see its full force in due course when it’s fully operational, anticipated to be in the New Year. The influence of the OEP will undoubtedly play a crucial role in ensuring an improvement in the environment.
Waste & Recycling
For those operating in the waste and recycling sector, the Act aims to incentivise greater recycling, encourage businesses to create sustainable packaging, make household recycling easier and stop the export of polluting plastic waste to developing countries.
The Act provides for the means to create the long-awaited Deposit Return Scheme for single use drinks containers and charges for single use plastics.
Electronic waste tracking to monitor waste movements and tackle fly-tipping and other waste crime is also being implemented by way of further regulations. There will undoubtedly be a period of adaption for those in the industry to navigate these new changes, which will inherently bring its own practical challenges.
With a particular focus also on tackling waste crime, and further restrictions of the shipment of hazardous waste and the export of waste, businesses will need to ensure they are fully appraised with the implications of the new Act or undoubtedly face scrutiny by the regulators (which can use their criminal and civil enforcement powers).
With new legally binding targets to improve air quality, this legislation seeks to clean up the country’s air; whilst Local Authorities will need to be alert to the changes, namely requiring them to tackle air quality, and simplify enforcement within smoke control areas.
The Act’s focus is clearly on conservation; it brings in a prohibition on larger UK businesses from using commodities associated with wide-scale deforestation. Harsher woodland protection enforcement measures are also to be implemented. Remarkably, the UK has become the first country to set a legal target to halt species decline by 2030.
With a shift to a due diligence enforcement system, regulated businesses will need to ensure they are establishing a system for each regulated commodity used in their supply chain.
There is a particular focus on reducing the level of sewage discharge and other waste, to clamp down on the causes and damaging effects of pollution. The Act also focuses on drainage and sewerage management planning. Water companies in particular will now need to ensure effective collaboration through the use of statutory water management plans.
A bright future ahead
The Act seeks to protect and enhance our environment for future generations, setting ambitious objectives to achieve this.
With such a breadth of environmental issues covered, as businesses grapple with the changes, it is vital they are fully aware of the impact of these changes on their operations and that they take the necessary steps to ensure compliance – regulators have wide-ranging and effective powers for those that breach their obligations and, with the recent sentences imposed by the courts on some water utility companies, the judiciary are clearly not afraid to flex their muscles with non-compliant businesses. The Act is undoubtedly a major milestone for the UK in its environmental efforts, and only time will show the impact it has.
A link to the Act can be found here: Environment Act 2021 (legislation.gov.uk)
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