The Environment Act is now law – but what does it mean?

07.12.2021

It feels as though the Environment Act has already been around a long time due to the frequent reports on its sluggish process through parliament. But the Act has now been given royal assent and made into law. 

At 300 pages long, the Act is far from pithy and has a wide-ranging focus due to its role as a foundation for future environmental legislation. But what exactly is included, and what does this mean for businesses going forwards? 

Why was the Environment Act introduced? 

Due to Brexit, from which most of our environmental legislation originated, we now fall outside of Europe’s environmental policy framework. We therefore needed to introduce our own objectives and create a long-term framework for future environmental legislation. 

In short, the Act aims to achieve both local and strategic change, improving our air and water quality, reducing our waste, boosting recycling and halting the decline of species. 

What does the Environment Act 2021 cover? 

The government intends for future regulations to set out all the details of environmental policy and planning, but the Act lays the foundations and offers provision for the following: 

  • Plans, policies and targets for improving the natural environment 
  • Statements and reports about environmental protection 
  • The new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) 
  • Resource and waste efficiency 
  • Air and water quality 
  • Nature and biodiversity 
  • Conservation covenants 
  • Regulation of chemicals 
  • Recall of products that fail to meet environmental standards 

How will the Environment Act affect businesses? 

Special emphasis has been placed on the importance of increasing the reduce, re-use and recycle mentality, and it is the provisions made on resource and waste efficiency that are therefore most likely to affect the operations of businesses. 

In particular, the principle of ‘the polluter pays’ has been extended and is likely to affect all of the supply chain, bar the end user. 

The ‘polluter pays’ idea is that those who produce the pollution should pay the costs for its safe disposal and any environmental damage caused. The Environment Act builds on this idea and has created provisions that would ensure that the producer of products or materials bears the full costs of managing these items at the point of disposal, whether this is by recycling, re-use, recovery or redistribution elsewhere. Importantly, ‘disposal’ also includes the costs of collecting and transporting the products, their treatment and even the costs that arise from communicating this process to the public. 

Packaging companies are also likely to be greatly affected by Schedule 4, which imposes responsibility on ‘specified persons’ to find ways of preventing something becoming waste and promoting the re-use, reduction or recycling of a product or material. 

The Act also refers to the possibility of ‘specified persons’ needing to provide information about the resource efficiency of their products, which could include the product’s expected lifespan, its materials, whether it can be upgraded and the costs linked to this. 

Going forward, developers will also need to consider biodiversity when making planning or development applications while local authorities will need to reconsider how they collect household waste. 

Provisions for deposit schemes and charges similar to that levied on plastic bags are also included in the Act. 

Find out more 

This change highlights the importance of staying on top of your legal obligations and understanding how changes may affect your business. Completing and maintaining a legal register can be instrumental in helping you with this. If you’d like to learn how to create one, watch our on-demand webinar on the subject here. 

You can also read the full Environment Act 2021 by visiting the UK parliament’s website.  

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About the author

  • Name:

    Claire Price

  • Company:

    Content Marketing Executive

  • Bio:

    Claire has worked for QMS since 2020 writing creative and informative content on ISO certification and consultation to help businesses reach their potential.

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