Polluter should pay,’ says DfT in new consultation on flares

The Department for Transport (DfT), along with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), has published a consultation about the safe disposal of time expired marine pyrotechnics (flares) from the pleasure boat sector.

The consultation seeks feedback to decide the next course of action when, in Dec 2021, the MCA’s current interim arrangements for flare disposal are set to end. The consultation doesn’t hold back in assessing where the problem of who pays for the pollution has arisen, saying the industry has failed to organise itself effectively.

According to the consultation, the sector’s multiple reasons for failing to engage in developing an effective range of solutions for flare disposal, does not justify its continued failure “to respond, as other sectors have, and to properly and responsibly address the management and safe disposal of its own waste.”

The document continues by saying “the industry has so far failed to organise itself in such a way as to be able to offer the extremely diverse boat-owning community robust options and solutions that work across the UK. Indeed, evidence suggests that some pleasure vessel owners take the easy option of dumping their redundant flares at sea or elsewhere around the UK coast.

“This is illegal and introduces unnecessary risks to public health, safety and the environment. The consequence of such actions is to leave it for the government to resolve and for the government to pay for, rather than industry addressing the issue itself.”

DfT says it is aware that a range of alternative schemes and services have been explored and attempted by different parts of the industry. There have been moderately successful crowd-funding initiatives around the UK, more usually known as ‘amnesties’ (often taking place as part of marine safety days) aimed at encouraging owners to hand in their redundant flares. Plus, trade and industry organisations have attempted to encourage the small and medium businesses within the sector to offer a collection service and to establish contracts with disposal companies, but, as Dft says, “none of these schemes appear to have gained much traction within the wider boat-owning community.”

It compares pleasure boat owners to car owners and stresses that the automotive industry has been able to take on the concept of ‘polluter pays’ with the clear inference that it’s about time the marine sector does the same.

The MCA previously agreed to provide an interim last-resort solution to the flare disposal problem – but that was a decade ago – and neither DfT nor the MCA has any statutory duty to provide such a service.

The new proposal being put forward is for an industry-led, self-regulated disposal service that complies with existing legislation and offers an opportunity for small regional businesses to tailor a disposal service that meets local needs.

The consultation is open for six weeks.

The current service was put in place as an interim measure to allow for the industry to develop a long-term solution and has been provided for free to pleasure boat owners by the MCA since 2010. Expired flares can be taken to 17 coastguard stations around the UK plus the RNLI station in Poole, Dorset.

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