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

Memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency


  This submission presents the Environment Agency's views on how the development of EU hazardous waste legislation and its implementation in England and Wales will affect the type of facilities needed to deal with this waste and the impacts on the Agency's regulatory responsibilities.

  The Agency concludes that:

    —  New and forthcoming controls will bring pressure, including increased costs, to bear on those who produce hazardous waste to reduce its production. The Agency welcomes this in the interests of protecting people and the environment.

    —  Increased hazardous waste management costs will make alternative hazardous waste recovery and treatment options economically viable. The Environment Agency supports this development.

    —  Implementation of the revised EU Hazardous Waste List will increase the range of wastes classified as hazardous and will result in an increase in the quantities of hazardous waste and the number of producers which will need to be regulated by the Agency.

    —  Implementation of the Landfill Directive will require non-landfill disposal options to be used from July 2002 for explosive, corrosive, oxidising, flammable, highly flammable and infectious wastes. Further Landfill Directive impacts will depend on landfill site classification decisions yet to be made by their operators and the waste acceptance criteria.

    —  Further pressures on hazardous waste recovery capacity will occur as the "producer responsibility" directives, such as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), End of Life Vehicles (ELV) and potentially Household Hazardous Waste take effect. A significant proportion of the hazardous waste will not be recoverable and will require further treatment or disposal.

    —  Without minimisation action being taken further hazardous waste disposal and recovery capacity will need to be developed, especially pre-treatment facilities and possibly high temperature incinerators and suitable landfill sites.

    —  There will be a requirement for a limited number of some specialist treatment facilities such as high temperature incineration. Transport distances to these facilities may be significant.

    —  EU legislation relating to hazardous waste is complex. The current arrangement of regulations and directives makes practical implementation of the legislation unnecessarily complex and costly to the Agency and to those it regulates.

    —  Further guidance is needed to assist waste producers, waste managers and regulators identify and classify hazardous wastes and to clarify what treatment is necessary or permissible prior to landfill.

    —  Increased pressure on hazardous waste management will raise the costs of its responsible disposal. This will potentially increase the incentive for illegal hazardous waste disposal by:

—  fly-tipping;

—  illegal import/export;

—  circumvention of controls such as misdescription of wastes under the Duty of Care.

  This in turn could attract the attention of organised criminal activity.

  The new duties introduced by this legislation will increase the Agency's costs for compliance monitoring, promoting hazardous waste minimisation and intelligence led enforcement to detect and prevent illegal activity.

  As the Government's expert and professional advisor on the development and implementation of environmental policy and strategy, the Agency recommends:

    —  The development and implementation by Government of a national hazardous waste management plan to ensure an adequate national network of hazardous waste management facilities.

    —  The Government's current review of the planning system should seek to ensure that development planning for waste management facilities supports the timely and appropriate provision of new hazardous waste recovery or disposal facilities at the local level.

    —  Strengthening and streamlining the Duty of Care provisions to reduce the risk of hazardous wastes being mis-classified as non-hazardous to avoid the new controls.

    —  A regulatory review aimed at reducing unnecessary complexity and conflict in the regulatory framework for hazardous waste management in the UK, leading to more joined up legislation.

    —  Tougher action through the courts to deter and punish those who do not comply with the law including realistic sentencing for environmental offences.

    —  Adequate time for industry and regulators to prepare for the efficient and effective introduction and operation of new hazardous waste control regimes including appropriate transition periods between the time regulations come into force and the measures apply to individual facilities.


2.1  The Environment Agency's Role in Hazardous Waste Management

  The Environment Agency is the leading public agency for protecting and enhancing the environment in England and Wales, through the regulation of emissions to air, land and water. Within this broad remit the Agency is the waste regulation authority for England and Wales.

  The Agency is both a regulator and an expert advisor to Government. In the latter capacity the Agency has worked closely with DEFRA and its predecessors in the development of many aspects of hazardous waste legislation. The Agency seeks at all stages to provide expert advice on the technical issues, as well as to gauge their strategic resource impacts and plan for implementation.

  Specifically the Agency aims:

    —  to seek the reduction of industrial hazardous waste production by requiring the application of applying Best Available Techniques (BAT) under Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) and waste minimisation at source to other processes;

    —  to promote the reduction of resource consumption and hazardousness of waste by applying techniques; developing tools such as life cycle analysis;

    —  to monitor and enforce compliance with relevant hazardous waste law;

    —  to target regulatory activities using risk-based principles and enforcement action through intelligence led enforcement.

  In UK waste law, "hazardous" waste is classed as "special" waste (under the 1996 Special Waste Regulations). Previous terms have been "toxic" and "dangerous", or even "poisonous". All European and international instruments refer to "hazardous" waste. For the sake of consistency in this submission the Agency refers to all such wastes as hazardous regardless of context, though it should be noted that the special waste definition embraces a slightly wider range, of wastes than does "hazardous".

  UK hazardous waste law dates back to the Deposit of Poisonous Wastes Act 1972. This was replaced by the Control of Pollution (Special Waste) Regulations 1980 under the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which defined hazardous waste through toxicity criteria and concentration of components. The controls were thoroughly reviewed again in 1996 but maintained concentration threshold tests for many wastes to decide if they are "special". These thresholds result in the total quantity of waste defined classified as "special" being less than would be defined as hazardous if the EU definition was directly used.

2.2  Basic Hazardous Waste Data: Types, Quantities and Fates

  The Agency collects data on hazardous waste movements as part of its regulatory responsibilities. Data on hazardous waste production and its fate are is given in the tables in Annex 1. This shows that currently some 6 million tonnes of hazardous waste are produced per annum in the UK.

  About 43 per cent of all consigned hazardous waste is currently disposed of to landfill.

  Currently the major (quantity by weight) hazardous waste streams are:

    —  Oils and oily wastes: 21 per cent (1.0 million tonnes)—25 per cent of which is landfilled;

    —  Construction and demolition and asbestos: 21 per cent (1.0 million tonnes)—92 per cent landfilled;

    —  Organic chemical processes: 12 per cent (0.54 million tonnes)—26 per cent landfilled;

    —  Inorganic chemical processes: 7 per cent (0.35 million tonnes)—42 per cent landfilled.

  The Agency compiles and publishes waste data to inform strategic and local planning, and to drive better waste minimisation practices. Our recent publications include Hazardous Waste Summaries from our monitoring database, and the Regional Strategic Waste Management Assessments (SWMAs). We plan to publish Strategic Waste Management Information for England and Wales in June 2002.


  3.1  During the last 30 years, the waste management industry has relied heavily on landfill, especially the practice of "co-disposal" of hazardous wastes with biodegradable wastes in the same landfill. The remainder has gone for treatment or incineration.

  3.2  The Government supported continued co-disposal throughout the early stages of the Landfill Directive negotiations in the early 1990s, but with little support from other countries in the EU. By the time the Landfill Directive was finally adopted in 1999 the argument for co-disposal had effectively been lost by the UK at the European level and a step change in UK hazardous waste disposal practice became inevitable.

  3.3  The Landfill Directive requires:

    —  the exclusion from landfill of wastes displaying certain hazards (for example, oxidising, corrosive, infectious), from July 2002;

    —  the general requirement to treat all hazardous wastes to be treated before landfill to standards yet to be fixed by the Commission (the "Waste Acceptance Criteria");

    —  the end of the UK practice of co-disposal of hazardous with non-hazardous wastes by 2004 with very few exceptions;

    —  the exclusion of hazardous liquids from landfill from July 2002.

  3.4  The Waste Acceptance Criteria (currently being produced by the European Commission Technical Adaptation Committee) will set the requirements which hazardous wastes will have to meet before they can go to any landfill. In practice, tough leaching test criteria may mean that treatments like solidification will be necessary. Uncertainties in finalising the criteria have delayed landfill operators' decisions about landfill classification and provision of new treatment capacity. Confirmation of the Waste Acceptance Criteria is expected from the European Commission by July this year. The Agency is issuing guidance on these criteria in June 2002 based on anticipation of the Commission's announcement.

  3.5  Landfill operators must decide whether they want to continue to accept hazardous wastes by July 2002. It is possible that many will opt to continue "co-disposal" up to 2004 after which this practice must stop. After July 2002 landfill of explosive, corrosive, oxidising, flammable, or highly flammable and infectious must stop immediately. The main effects of the Landfill Directive on hazardous waste management will therefore have effect over the next two to six years.

  3.6  The waste management industry has suggested that non-landfill hazardous waste management capacity exists to cope with these changes. However, the actual types and tonnages of hazardous waste that will have to be redirected away from landfill depends on the Waste Acceptance Criteria and commercial landfill classification decisions yet to be made by the site operators. The Agency must receive site operator Conditioning Plans by July 2002, through which the operator must make clear which category of landfill (hazardous or non-hazardous) will be opted for.

  3.7  The Agency is concerned that landfills solely for hazardous waste disposal may require very long-term management and monitoring. This type of landfill is relatively new to the UK, and the Agency is investigating other EU Member States' experiences to guide the controls needed for preparation, operation and after-care of these sites.

  Any increase in the costs of responsible hazardous waste management will increase the incentive for illegal hazardous waste disposal by:

    —  fly-tipping;

    —  illegal import/export;

    —  circumvention of controls such as mis-description of wastes under the Duty of Care and special waste regime.

  In turn, this could attract the attention of organised criminal activity and will require the Agency to be vigilant in applying both regulatory and intelligence-led enforcement to detect and prevent this possibility. The Agency would therefore need to be properly resourced to undertake this higher level of enforcement work. We have focused start-up resources this financial year to allow first steps in intelligence-led enforcement. We will have to keep our need for resources in this area under review. We would also like to see tougher penalties to deter and punish those who do not comply with the law.


  4.1  Many hazardous items or materials are currently managed as small parts of generally non-hazardous wastes. Examples include small batteries, vehicle components and household items like bleach.

  4.2  The general concept of "producer responsibility" involves making manufacturers or sellers responsible for products and materials when they are finally discarded. This will inevitably require separation of items from general mixed waste. Some household waste will immediately need to be managed as hazardous waste. Others, such as scrap cars will need to be processed to recover valuable materials and remove hazardous components. As an example, Annex 2 lists the most common hazardous components in cars.

  4.3  These new producer responsibilities will require new facilities for materials recovery and to treat and dispose of the hazardous wastes arising from that recovery. The numbers and types of facility needed and the quantities of waste involved will depend on the detail of the Directives and the UK regulations. The Agency is working closely with Government to influence the Directives and to facilitate ease their UK implementation. The implementation date for the End of Life Vehicles Directive is 2002 and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive is possibly 2004.


  5.1  There are differences between the EU definitions of hazardous waste and that implemented in the UK. The UK definition of hazardous ("special") waste has encompasseds wastes not classed as hazardous in Europe, such as Prescription Only Medicines. It also excludes some wastes regarded as hazardous in the rest of Europe by applying threshold tests for some hazards such as toxicity. European case law is also tending to extend the scope of the definition of waste and therefore what is hazardous waste. As a result, implementing EU Ddirectives in the UK has created some tensions. led to some confusion. For example, the Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive has used the Hazardous Waste Directive rather than the UK "special" waste definition. This has led to some confusion.

  The EU Hazardous Waste list has also been recently extended to include, for example, fluorescent tubes, end of life vehicles, computer monitors, some contaminated soils, dental amalgam and diesel. The Agency is working with DEFRA on a full review of the special waste regime to bring it fully in line with EU hazardous waste definitions and controls. This will increase the range and quantity of wastes regarded as "hazardous".

  We welcome the current review of the Special Waste Regulations particularly the proposed revision to the consignment note procedure. We will take the opportunity to move from paper-based administrative controls to more targeted waste minimisation promotion activities, inspection, monitoring and enforcement of hazardous waste producers.

  Broadening the range of "hazardous" waste in the UK will affect the style of regulation of the facilities treating or disposing of it. Some sites currently "exempt" from waste management licensing may no longer qualifty for this simplified regulatory regime. A government consultation on possible changes to the exemptions is planned for later this year. Operators of sites needing a waste management licence may need a higher level of proven "technical competence" to allow them to continue to operate if they wish to continue managing newly defined hazardous wastes.

  To comply fully with the Waste Framework Directive, some agricultural waste is likely to be brought under UK waste regulation law shortly. A significant number of farmers will therefore become hazardous waste producers for wastes such as veterinary medicines, herbicide residues, etc.

  Similar changes are proposed for non-natural mine and quarry waste, which are also currently excluded from UK waste controls. The Agency is currently scoping the types and quantities of waste that will need to be managed as hazardous wastes in future from these two sectors.


  6.1  The Agency regulates most hazardous waste incinerators through the Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) regime in Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

  6.2  The IPC authorisations satisfy the requirements of the Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive (HWID) (96/67/EC). Similar statutory arrangements are also in place under the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) regime.

  6.3  The aim of the HWID is to prevent or reduce as far as possible negative effects on the environment and health, from hazardous waste incineration through securing appropriate operating conditions and emission limits.

  6.4  The Agency has issued 27 authorisations which implement the HWID for a range of processes, including dedicated hazardous waste incinerators and cement kilns.

  6.5  Recent developments in the European definition of waste and changes to the European Waste List are likely to widen the scope of the HWID (and the Waste Incineration Directive which will replace it by December 2002) and thus the number of processes subject to this regulation. Waste oil-burning in power stations and roadstone coating plants may be severely curtailed when the WID is fully implemented (in late 2005) because of the high costs of achieving compliance with the WID emission limits and operating standards.

  6.6  The Agency will work with Government and industry to improve environment and health protection for waste incineration whilst still supporting important markets for wastes where they can be beneficially used as fuels.


  7.1  A national hazardous waste management plan is needed to ensure an adequate national network of hazardous waste management facilities are available. The planning and development control system (currently under Government review) needs reform to support the timely provision of any new facilities required at a local level, and needs to be directly connected to the strategic planning system. Without this link, strategic plans may never be turned into reality at either a local or national level.

  7.2  The sixth European Environmental Action Programme suggests that EU policy needs to focus on waste prevention, both qualitative (hazardousness) and quantitative. The programme sets a target of reducing the volume of hazardous waste generated by around 20 per cent by 2010, compared to 2000, and by around 50 per cent by 2020.

  7.3  The Agency intends to concentrate its waste minimisation initiatives on priority waste streams, especially tyres and hazardous wastes. The work on hazardous waste will be undertaken as part of our increased contact with producers under the forthcoming review of the Special Wastes Regime. Waste Strategy 2000 does not contain any government targets or intended instruments or controls to reduce hazardous waste production in England and Wales. Together with a national plan for hazardous waste management, the Agency would like to see Government proposals for hazardous waste reduction as a development of the strategy.

  7.4  Any short- to medium-term lack of hazardous waste treatment/disposal capacity will drive costs upwards. Even if adequate capacity is or will be available, hazardous waste management costs will inevitably increase. This pressure will encourage the development of new treatment methods or additional capacity as they become economically viable. Increased costs will also encourage hazardous waste minimisation by producers, and this is to be welcomed.

Environment Agency

17 May 2002

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