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


Memorandum submitted by M Baker Recycling Limited

  I understand that you are leading an Inquiry into the background to and difficulties in implementing the European Regulation 2037/2000 for the disposal of refrigerators and the removal of the ozone depleting substances contained in the cooling element and also the insulating foam between the inner and outer casings.

  In presenting this document, I endeavour to deal with it in two parts. The first part being the background leading up to the end of 2001 and the second part dealing with matters that have occurred since 1 January 2002 and their implications.

  As a Member of Parliament, you will be aware that the EU Regulations pass automatically into British law and insofar as 2037/2000 became EU Regulation in 2000, the whole of the year 2001 was available for preparation for the implementation of the Regulation on 1 January 2002. The Regulation quite clearly calls for the destruction of ozone depleting substances contained in refrigerators and no research is necessary for it to become evident that the ozone depleting substance is contained not only in the liquid and gaseous element within the cooling matrix but also within the foam. Not only that, but the amount contained within the foam represents some 70-80 per cent of all the ozone depleting substance.

  If we look at the way by which these refrigerators were being disposed of prior to 1 January 2002, we recognise immediately that it was unsatisfactory in environmental terms whilst satisfying the then existing disposal requirements. The pattern of performance was that lightweight suction equipment was applied to the cooling matrix and removed about 15 per cent of the volunteer gas and liquid element contained within that matrix. Our research has indicated that the time allocated to this was in some cases as little as 14-15 seconds. The then "degassed" refrigerator was sent to the car crushing/fragmentiser plants for disposal and thus the foam contained within the carcus of the refrigerator was disposed of by the simple expedient of crushing it to dust, enabling all the ozone depleting substances within it, and the remaining liquid contained in the processor, to be sent to atmosphere. Bearing in mind that ODS has a global impact between 6,000-8,000 times greater that that of carbon dioxide, it can be seen that although legitimately satisfying the then regulations it was in no way really addressing the disposal of the ozone depleting substances.

  By October 2001 virtually every car crushing plant/fragmentiser had begun refusing to take refrigerators and the pile of discarded equipment began to grow. At the same time, the "take back" system much operated by the retailers, under which every time a new refrigerator was delivered to a house the old or discarded refrigerator was in all probability collected free of charge by the retailer concerned, and sent for processing, ceased.

  The argument advanced by HM Government that they had no knowledge until June 2001 must be incorrect. What they had on 16 June was confirmation from the EU that it was necessary to dispose of the foam. That anybody would look at the proposition and pretend that it was not going to be necessary to remove the foam, bearing in mind the percentage of ozone depleting substance contained within the foam, seems to evade all logic. In reality, the most that can be said is that HM Government was hoping for a reprieve which would enable the sands of time to run on until the implementation of the WEEE Directive in 2005, at which time producer responsibility would take over and the Government would not be required to finance the cost of the disposal of the refrigerator and its contents.

  The reality therefore was that on 16 June 2001 it became evident that only a total solution was going to be satisfactory under the EU Regulation. For those of us intent on providing the necessary modern equipment for fulfilling the obligations under the EU legislation it became clear that orders would have to be placed for machinery on the basis that the quality of disposal would be sufficiently good to satisfy the upcoming interpretation of the Regulation.

  In November this year we became the first company in the United Kingdom to order a machine specifically designed for the disposal of ozone depleting substances and the recovery of all the component elements. This was placed with a well known German firm called Erdwich who have 10 machines operating in Germany, two in Taiwan and one in Japan. The reason I make this point is that whilst considerable confusion continued to hold up DEFRA, discussions had been going on with interested parties such as ourselves, under the auspices of DEFRA to establish the criteria that would be required to satisfy the EU legislation. In reality, what was finally discussed and produced as a draft proposal, through the good offices of a company called Caleb who had been retained to prepare the actual document, was a higher standard that pertained in Germany but not by an unreasonable amount. However, since that was finally put into draft form in October no progress has actually been made in finalising the specification as a published document which can be relied upon. As a consequence, bank funding for further machines is extremely limited because as far as they are concerned they would want the satisfaction of knowing that the machine which they are being asked to fund would meet the criteria. Certainly individual companies such as ours could not take the risk of ordering more than one £2.5 million machine without the comfort of knowing that it would meet the specification.

  We therefore have a situation where probably four of five operators have acquired or ordered one machine each. Those machines are coming and in most cases will arrive in the United Kingdom in the period of time between June and September 2002. Another two months or thereabouts must then be allowed for the installation of the equipment, so we are looking at production becoming available from early August through until early October. Because the lead time on one of these machines is something like five months, it can be seen that the chances are that the first machine will be installed and then there will be a further gap whilst a further round of orders are placed and this is unnecessary because all these matters could have been clarified well in advance of today's date.

  I enclose a press cutting from the Daily Telegraph of 21 February 2002, which quite clearly shows that the doubt that has pervaded the entire proceedings has definitely served as a delay in putting machinery in and that many local authorities are now faced with huge bills for storing and handling refrigerators rather than being able to consider the more straightforward process of arranging for their destruction. To put it another way, had the government moved with normal alacrity, the machines would have been installed and been shredding the equipment today and it would have actually cost less money than it is at present costing.

  In my opening paragraphs I said that I would also deal with the situation pertaining after 1 January 2002. In the absence of the machinery being delivered and installed during the autumn and winter of 2001, the opening of the new year brought with it chaos. The local authorities believed that they could store the refrigerators in the open but the Environment Agency's ruling on this matter made it clear that this would not be acceptable and standards were set. Additionally, many people and companies were quoting local authorities for taking their waste, storing it and arranging for it to be destroyed whilst at the same time not being asked to show proof that they actually had the facilities in order, if not installed. In many cases what we had was nothing better than cowboy behaviour with operators making promises they had not the slightest intention of fulfilling or even the ability to fulfil them. At the same time prices were being quoted that bore no relationship to the true cost of operating a machine costing the sums of money involved, and it became a totally unsettled market when no need existed for such a situation to arise. The apex of this travesty arose at the end of January/early part of February when it was discovered that an operator in the North West had secured contracts from leading local authorities for just such an operation. The refrigerators were being taken to a store in Oldham and were being stacked as much as 40 feet high, whilst the Environment Agency's regulation called for no storage higher than 3 metres. Additionally, the manner of handling these was lifting them into place with a grab crane and dropping them onto the pile. Since they were not properly degassed, even if there had been some token degassing, large amounts of ozone depleting substances were escaping to the atmosphere. When tackled over this, they closed the site and moved to another site, working in conjunction with a waste company.

  Furthermore, those local authorities who contracted their work to a company clearly not competent in the processing of redundant refrigerators must have been guilty of breach of their duty of care and this failure of care should be hastily rectified.

  The essence of this one example illustrates the problems that are faced by people who are undertaking to install reliable, technically advanced equipment to meet the true requirements of the Environment Agency and the European regulations.

  For there to be any credibility in the market, those who transgress must be stopped from continuing in this way, whilst at the same time those who are undertaking to invest large amounts of capital and enormous amounts of effort should be permitted to proceed in the difficult situations which currently exist. At a recent meeting of interested stakeholders organised by DEFRA, it became quite clear that the one cry coming from all those genuinely involved was for a level playing field where good practice, of even better still best practice, should be encouraged. The worse of all things that could happen would be for some of the investors to become disenchanted with the behaviour of the rogue element and as a result of that stop bringing in their equipment and risking a situation where there was under capacity for the work to be undertaken.

  To summarise, there has been delay, there has been difficulty in arriving at decisions and for those to be confirmed. As a consequence the cost and the problems endemic within the operation of this EU Regulation have been greatly compounded. Nonetheless, equipment does not exist that could fulfil the best aspirations for recycling. The costs could be sensibly controlled by competition and those who would seek to behave in a totally unrealistic and ruthless manner to confound all best practice for the recycling of these ozone depleting substances could be brought to book. It is only against that background, of some degree of certainty and stability, that the real quality of investment will be made and I trust that my presentation will in some measure show a way forward.

Michael Baker

M Baker Recycling Limited

25 February 2002

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