What Does Brexit Mean For Recycling?


With the dust around the referendum starting to settle, the country is looking cautiously to the future. While much of the focus on the aftermath of the Brexit vote has been on economics and immigration, one important aspect which will also be greatly effected by leaving the EU is recycling.

In this article, we will take a look at the implications Brexit has on the recycling industry and recycling as a whole in the UK, as well as the impact the EU has had in the past on our nation’s renewed focus on recycling.

Recycling and the EU

The EU has been closely linked with recycling here in the UK, with recycling legislation and policy spearheaded by the EU, who have acted as a key driving force behind the UK’s vast improvement in recycling rates over the last decade. The EU standards on environmental protection, and gradual march to sustainability, has had a noticeable influence on the UK, and this has become the source of much of the trepidation and uncertainty within the recycling industry.

The main worry is that the UK, without the influence of the EU, will regress rather than improve when it comes to nationwide recycling policies and targets.


Although there are solid foundations for uncertainty when it comes to Brexit, there is also room for optimism. Despite losing what has proven in the past to be important support from the EU, the waste management industry is looking to take steps to ensure that this becomes an opportunity for improvement, not an excuse to fall back into old habits. It will take a strong, concerted effort nationwide, but it is still quite possible that the UK’s recycling infrastructure can thrive in the future.

Circular economy

The EU’s circular economy package is a push to implement even higher recycling targets for EU members, with the hope that countries can ‘close the loop’ on sustainability, leading to sustainable supplies of secondary raw materials and an even greater focus on recycling and the manufacturing of greener products. With the UK deciding to leave the EU, it will now be up to the UK itself to implement similar measures in the future.

The EU’s circular economy targets will likely be out of reach for the UK, but that doesn’t mean things have to start going backwards. It is important for plans to be outlined early, so that the waste sector can work with the government to discuss not only the importance of maintaining and improving what we already have, but working for strong investment so recycling targets can remain high.

Like many consequences of Brexit, it will take hard work from all involved to make sustainability work in the UK, and strategies will need to be in place to gain investment and involvement from parties, like manufacturers, in working towards sustainability.


There is a clear target in mind when it comes to recycling after Brexit. The recycling infrastructure is something we have become accustomed to, and there are ways to help maintain that in the future. Still, uncertainty is rampant throughout the country. It will come down to agreement and involvement with multiple parties to negotiate the best possible deal, and this could mean compromise. The UK may have to settle for more humble sustainability goals than it otherwise would as a part of the EU, but there is still definitely room for growth.

Brexit is a long, complex procedure and only time will tell how the UK will respond to the loss of the EU focus on sustainability. As was the goal with Brexit, the impetus will be on the government themselves to help accommodate a strong, sustained focus on recycling in the future. Uncertainty will always be lingering in the background, but there is certainly enough room for optimism.

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