| 21 Feb 2024

Dr Louise Smail is the author of Water and Waste Regulation.

This is included in our Environmental Law service.

What first drew you to working in the area of water and waste regulation?

Water and waste are increasingly important as people focus on the circular economy: the sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling of existing materials. Water is a scarce commodity in an increasing number of areas of the world. Most of the control of waste and waste is via permits and regulations, which I find interesting to unpack and try to explain it in a way which can be understood my many people rather than a baffling mystery.

What developments do you forsee taking place in UK water and waste regulation over the next five years?

The current definition of waste is the one from the WFD (Waste Framework Directive). It states: ‘”Waste” means any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard.’

This means that irrespective of the value of the waste product or its usefulness as a raw material for someone else, it must be treated as waste, removed from site by a licensed waste carrier and treated at a licensed waste recycling facility.

It is possible for the waste product to be classified as end-of-waste. A research project, a Study to assess Member States (MS) practices on by-product (BP) and End-of-Waste [ 1 ], highlighted how varied the approach to waste is in countries throughout the EU, in particular how end-of-waste is decided. Starting in early 2018, China banned the import of several types of waste, which has greatly affected recycling industries world-wide.

Clearly the circular economy aims to increase recycling and reuse, so the current end-of-waste process will come under scrutiny in the UK. In December 2021, France issued a decree that recovered and sorted cardboard are no longer considered as waste in France, but in the UK it is still classified as waste. I think that some clear rethinking of the end-of-waste process needs to take place or the UK may find itself at a disadvantage.


[ 1 ] Study to Assess Member States (MS) Practices on By-Product (BP) and End-of -Waste (EoW)

Reference: N° 070201/2018/793241/ENV.B.3 Final Report, 2020, prepared by Umweltbundesamt GmbH (EAA) and ARCADIS Belgium NV nINAL VERSION 30/04/2020

How has Brexit impacted current regulations?

Before Brexit, the different parts of the UK were working to align their regulations for water and waste. Since Brexit, this has stopped and already there are differences appearing in the approach to permitting, enforcement and end-of-waste. This can be a challenge for organisations working across the UK and the need to comply with environmental regulations.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Keeping on top of environmental legislation both in the UK and Europe, as well as the other transboundary issues outside of this. I’m always looking for a simple way of explaining environmental permitting – somewhat hampered by the continually changing nature of permits, licenses and enforcement.

Environmental governance is an important issue, as many of the UK’s environmental requirements came from EU legislation and the UK needs to make sure it doesn’t develop an environmental governance gap.

Many issues around the environment don’t relate to one country and its boundary; global loss of biodiversity and air quality need to be tackled on a global basis.

Finally, recent changes in the weather because of climate change have seen issues of flooding and this is a risk which will need to be faced and dealt with.

All these issues make the subject area both challenging and interesting and at the same time, it offers the opportunity to be part of a circular economy.

Dr Louise Smail has extensive experience in the field of environmental law, climate change and risk management with a wide range of organisations, including local government, police, manufacturing and many train operating companies.

Louise has worked as a principal consultant and director of two international consulting groups. She works on high profile projects looking at business risk evaluation and performance at board level, as well as the impact of changes in environmental legislation in both the UK and Europe.

Louise is a co-author of The Law of Renewable Energy and HSE and Environment Agency Prosecution: The New Climate, both published by Bloomsbury Professional.