Why no-deal Brexit could stink for Britain's profitable waste industry and turn in-demand trash into expensive rubbish

One after another, the drivers tip their trucks into a cavernous concrete pit. Above, a giant claw grabs bags of rubbish, piling them high.

But these aren’t just mounds of waste, they’re mountains of money. Because, while it might smell off, this is all part of Britain’s thriving trade in trash.

Amazingly, what we bin others actually want to buy.

We’ve come to a plant run by Suez near Bristol, which collects rubbish from all over the south.

Some is burnt in a furnace, sending steam down miles of pipes to turn a turbine and generate power which can then be sold into the grid.

Nearby, a separate plant also sorts recyclables and packages them up into bundles of profit, ready to be shipped out and cashed in.

But whether it’s burned or baled, Britain can’t reuse its waste as fast as it generates it. Which is why every year we send millions of tonnes to the EU instead.

Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands are our biggest customers, turning our waste into their own power, while recyclables are exported via Rotterdam to markets all over the world.

Currently of course, the trash trade within the EU is tariff free. Which is why they hold their noses here at the prospect of Brexit ending without a deal.

One of the managers at Suez, Dr Adam Read, tells me: "No deal's not good, not good for us, (the) transition period will be scary.

"What do we do on that day one? What happens? Where does that material go? We can have logjams in the system operating with Europe and beyond. We need a plan."

Potential tariff rates for products being sent to the EU could be up to 7.5 per cent. Credit: Defra

The way the waste industry works is complex.

Some of our rubbish is actually classed as a service rather than goods, depending on how it's used the other end.

But whatever the product, the fear is over tariffs and taxes.

The government isn’t issuing specific technical papers to the industry - like it is to others in the coming days - about the impact of a no deal Brexit.

But refuse companies are worried enough by the little guidance they have been given.

Documents seen by ITV News show the government has warned the industry of tariffs of up to 7.5% on waste we export to the EU if we can’t strike a free trade deal.

Throw in potential taxes on services and administrative problems at ports, and British waste suddenly starts to look like expensive rubbish.

And if it’s no longer economically viable for Europe to import our trash, it’ll stay here instead. Which would not be so bad if there was somewhere to put it.

There could be another 400 trucks per day driving round looking for landfill, which is increasingly hard to find and comes at a cost not just to the environment but to councils and businesses too.

Inevitably, that would be passed on to customers and taxpayers. Some councils may even need to cut back on what they collect.

An extra 400 extra trucks a day would be needed to transport rubbish around the country if Britain can't strike a deal. Credit: ITV News

The government insists that other international agreements like the Basel Convention (which have nothing to do with our EU membership) will at least smooth some of the uncertainty.

But these wouldn’t cover the cost of importing and exporting.

Joe Papineschi, a Waste Consultant at Eunomia which leads much of the research in this area, says businesses have every right to be worried.

But in the long run, he tells me, there could actually be opportunities too.

"The big prize is to make our economy more circular, to effectively use more of our own waste material within our own economy," Mr Papineschi explains.

"That has a lot of economic benefits in terms of jobs and economic growth but also has a lot of environmental benefits."

But he adds that building new infrastructure to recycle or reuse our waste here in Britain would take time we really don’t have.

Suez say their plants generally require five to seven years of planning and building at least.

And with just a few months left of the negotiations before the road runs out, the waste industry is insisting a Brexit deal is one thing we can’t afford to throw away.