Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Letter from Biffa Waste Services Ltd to the Rt Hon Michael Meacher, MP, Minister of State (environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 14 January 2002


  Forgive me for contacting you direct on the troublesome question of fridges. Having been one of the first—if not the first—individuals to raise this matter with your team almost 10 months ago on the basis that we have always asserted the ODS regulations would apply, it is not our wish to revisit the history of how we got to where we are. My primary concern lies in making sure that we don't repeat the experience you had as a result of the problems with illegal deposits of contaminated land in golf courses. As you are aware I was also involved in that exposé working in conjunction with Guardian.

  I write simply to relay my company's extreme concern at what we regard as a looming control problem with regard to end life management of domestic fridges on the evidence of the last three weeks. Put simply we are aware that disreputable companies are being formed with little or no history of sound economic trading and are touting themselves to local authorities which—certainly at district level—either don't have the time nor inclination to check the credentials of these companies. As a consequence we believe that the Government is building substantial problems for itself by allowing these companies to operate purely because they have made an application for a storage licence. We question whether any of them have any serious intention of implementing transparent end life management systems for fridges—in short rogue elements appear to be stockpiling fridges in much the same way that history showed contaminated soils and tyres were in the last decade.

  We are not crying wolf because these people are hurting our business. We decided not to invest in end processing technology for the simple reason that no one in Government is prepared to commit to a sensible framework whereby three basic requirements for strategic investment can be met:

    (i)  Approval of defined technologies which meet European standards.

    (ii)  A clear understanding on who is going to pay the cost of processing and collection in the long run (we all know that the consumer will pay eventually, of course, either at the purchase point of fridges or as a general taxpayer).

    (iii)  Agreement on a level playing field with regard to enforcement and reporting transparency.

  It is our belief that none of these three criteria have been met—but if our worst fears are proven (and I refer you to The Times of 8 January for a foretaste) then it is the respectable companies in the waste and end life ferrous scrap processing sector—as well as your Department and Government—which will bear the brunt of accusations from the general public. We are not prepared to take those accusations lying down when they come—which is why I am registering our uncertainties now as an informed insider.

  I have copied this letter to Baroness Young on the basis that the Environment Agency has an equal willingness not to suffer the same slings and arrows it experienced on the question of unregulated waste disposal licenses issued to soils contractors. At the very least someone ought to be collating centrally who is applying for these fridge management licenses and assessing the quality of their balance sheets and provisions. If you don't I suspect you will be paying twice over—first to those who specialise in disappearing tricks once they have got up to their target retirement fund and second time round to reputable companies like us who will have to pick up the mess as well as the reputational damage.

cc: Baroness Young, Environment Agency

Robert Walker, Severn Trent

David Arculus, Severn Trent

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