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16 March 2016

Pam Watts, owner of recycling company SK writes about her dreadful experience at the hands of EU regulations.

In 2012 SK invested £2m developing a furnace to separate lead from the hazardous leaded glass found in old style TV’s. Not only did this provide a solution to a world-wide problem but converted a hazardous waste to valuable lead ingots and inert sand. Up to that point the only alternative, under the European WEEE Directive which regulates our industry, was dumping this waste stream in hazardous landfill sites, which we as a country are trying to reduce.

According to the UK’s interpretation of the directive, they were adamant that no waste could be dealt with by simply diluting it into another product. Yet we had hardly started processing and producing lead when a competitor spotted that a company in Holland was doing just that, using the leaded glass in the production of its concrete blocks.  Obviously, this was much cheaper, if less ethical, than our process and the competitor applied to the UK regulator for a licence to export to Holland.

Some rules more even than others

Both countries are operating under the same European WEEE Directive, but Holland simply interprets the regulations to a lower standard. As we are both under the same regulations and have free trade, our EA could not deny our competitor a licence to send the glass to Holland, despite the fact that they would not allow the same practice here!

It got worse.  The Dutch company started exporting the sub-standard blocks to the UK under free trade, undercutting our concrete manufacturers. After months of tough lobbying, the Concrete Association have temporarily stopped the import of the blocks

Meanwhile, the UK has stood to its guns and refused to allow concrete manufacturers from using the leaded glass on the grounds that it is diluting a waste stream and that is against the Directive, something totally allowable by other EU member states.

So we are not allowed to work to this lesser standard but we can’t stop the waste from being processed to this standard in another member state. And we struggle to prevent the concrete blocks from being imported back here, even though our concrete manufacturers cannot make similar products.

How can British companies work under this uneven playing field? What confidence can we have to invest and innovate when we don’t know what the rules are or if another state will undercut us by accepting lower standards?

Investment written off

Our universities produce world class engineers, scientists and innovators. Invention and engineering is what we are best at. Yet how can we stand behind our great engineers and scientists and support them with investment

The result has been that we have turned off our furnace, written off a £2m investment and made 12 skilled jobs redundant. Six of the men we employed were skilled furnace-men who had been made redundant when Sheerness Steel closed a year before. They must truly have lost faith in our country as they have watched their entire industry die.

We have accepted the lower standard as the only way forward with regret but for the company to survive we need to be able to compete with the Dutch and get rid of our leaded glass into concrete. We are currently discussing getting a licence from the EA to do this. What a great waste of British invention, investment and jobs.