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

Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association


  Membership of the LGA represents all the waste collection authorities (WCAs) and the waste disposal authorities (WDAs) in England and Wales. As such, it has a direct interest in the terms of this Inquiry into hazardous waste, and it welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this important debate.


  It is noted that the Inquiry is intended to "address concerns that recent debate about waste management has focused on municipal and household waste, and that policy-making should take proper account of the question of hazardous waste disposal". Taking up this point, it is understandable that debate about waste management has tended to have this focus, principally for the following reasons. Firstly, this type of waste is produced by every individual and every council taxpayer, and also represents a common responsibility of all communities. Focusing on domestic refuse ("rubbish" to ordinary people) and the need to recover and re-use it as a valuable resource is a crucial element in achieving the sea-change needed if the targets set under the government's Waste Strategy 2000, and by the need to meet European standards, are to be met. As the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has pointed out in its fifth report of session 2000-01, "Delivering Sustainable Waste Management", stronger leadership is needed from the government on waste so that the position whereby "At present the public are ill-informed and misled about what happens to their waste" (Recommendation XX, para 213) is addressed.

  Equally, municipal waste comprises the majority of land-filled biodegradable waste which falls under the Landfill Directive. Since meeting the targets for reducing this type of waste is likely to prove challenging, it is understandable that considerable attention has been given to this particular waste stream.

  However, focusing on municipal and household waste should not be done at the expense of ignoring the importance of dealing suitably with hazardous waste (or, for that matter, ignoring the need to address the challenges of industrial and commercial wastes). What is required is a holistic approach, in keeping with the underpinning philosophy in the government's White Paper "A Better Quality of Life" (1998) and the government's Waste Strategy 2000.

  In all this, preparedness is the key, with the government playing a lead role, alerting all interests to impending changes, supporting capacity to meet new demands, and ensuring that the necessary regulations are in place in sufficient time to allow all concerned to adapt to changed circumstances.


  It is recognised that the Landfill Directive (which EU member states were required to implement from 16 July 2001) sets challenging operational and technical requirements for disposal of waste by landfill. By 16 July 2002, landfill sites operators will need to submit site conditioning plans and outline whether they intend to operate as inert hazardous or non-hazardous landfills. This may involve the need to reapply for planning permission if the category of site is changed. If a landfill site is categorised as a hazardous waste site this year by its operator, it will no longer be able to accept waste liquids, corrosive, oxidising or flammable/highly flammable waste, infectious clinical waste, chemical waste from research activities and (from July 2003) whole tyres. This could have a significant effect on local authorities, particularly some of the metropolitan authorities and county councils.

  There appears to be growing concern that the implementation of the Landfill Directive will result in fewer licensed hazardous waste sites. It is understood from contacts with the Environment Agency that many sites which presently take hazardous waste are not reapplying for "hazardous" status. If it is the case that waste disposal companies only designate a small number of strategic sites to accept hazardous waste, this will inevitably mean increased transport costs, and likely double-handling, due to associated pre-treatment costs, passing on an additional burden to businesses. It also brings with it the likelihood of an increase in dumping of hazardous waste materials. It is likely that, due to market pressures, operators will not apply for a licence unless they perceive an available and steady market for hazardous waste. However, if waste policy moves in the direction which is intended, in the not too distant future, the need for landfill should reduce considerably, and this could result in a further reduction in the number of sites. This clearly calls for a strategic, co-ordinated approach on the part of government, involving all parties concerned, in order to plan for these eventualities.

  Under the Landfill Directive, waste will need to be pre-treated before it is landfilled. This will require the construction of an adequate network of facilities to deal with hazardous waste, requiring planning permission and either a Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) authorisation or a waste management licence from the Environment Agency. There is concern that obtaining the necessary approval from the Environment Agency may be subject to some delay, due to shortage of sufficiently skilled staff to carry out the necessary permitting work at present.

  All in all, the requirements of the Landfill Directive will place significant pressures on alternative capacity to manage the affected waste streams, and the need for transfer stations, shredding facilities and material reclamation facilities will increase.

  It is recognised that there has been a delay on the part of government in producing regulations, and that the Environment Agency has had to produce guidance to industry based on EU Regulations, rather than those issued by DEFRA. Such a position is obviously not satisfactory and the Agency has done well in the circumstances to produce the guidance it has.

  One particular issue which is raised by the Landfill Directive (which bans co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes) is whether two or more cells in the same general landfill may be used for hazardous and non-hazardous waste disposal, or whether the sites must actually be separated geographically. From a local authority perspective, where the disposal of hazardous waste is concerned, a pragmatic and risk-based approach to this issue would be beneficial which takes account of the additional distances which might be required for transport for disposal where the need to open or operate separate sites for different types of wastes might be concerned.

  It is considered that a risk-based policy should be adopted towards materials on the EC hazardous waste list. Under the current regulations, household waste is not classified as special or hazardous waste, and the rigid implementation of a measure that brought many items of household waste under the Special Waste Regulations would entail considerably increased expenditure for local authorities, with little or even negligible benefit in terms of reducing pollution or environmental risks. It would also rely for its effectiveness on the willingness of householders to separate at source. Some of the items which WCAs currently collect, and which will become hazardous waste under the amendments to the EC hazardous waste list are treated timber, fluorescent tubes which contain mercury, edible oils, and fly ash.

  In terms of overall preparedness by the government for the implementation of European Directives in question, what is needed is for the timely preparation and introduction of UK regulations so that they come into force when needed. Time-lags cause uncertainty, confusion and militate against effective forward planning.

  The LGA submitted written evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee Sub-Committee Inquiry into fridges at the start of March this year, which identified in some detail its concerns at a number of aspects of the situation in the UK arising from lack of preparedness for implementation of the Ozone Depleting Substances Regulation. There are clearly lessons to be learned from that situation which should serve as a reminder of what can go wrong when insufficient forward planning takes place.

  It has to be a matter of concern that the End of Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive has come into force this year with no accompanying UK regulations. This leaves local authorities, Environment Agency enforcement officers and much of the affected part of industry not fully geared up to meet its new requirements. Without proper regulation and guidance at the right time, the business planning process is adversely affected, and inevitably delays and problems start to occur. The LGA has urged government to take a firm lead in providing incentives to the motor salvage industry to invest in the necessary treatment/handling plants and related equipment to cope with the treatment of End of Life Vehicles. It has also argued, in line with the principle of producer responsibility, for the implementation date for producers to meet the cost of dealing with ELVs to be brought forward by a period of two years to 2005.

  In regard to the waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) Directive, the LGA would again be concerned if the government did not introduce regulations in time to meet the proposed European Directive's requirements. It is imperative that the "polluter pays" principle is carried through fully, and that local authorities (and therefore local council taxpayers) do not end up directly funding collection costs. The increased costs of dealing with materials which were previously considered non-hazardous should fall fairly and squarely upon producers, and be reflected in the price of their products.

  DTI and DEFRA need to work closely with industry to ensure that there is the requisite reprocessing capacity in place when the Directive comes into force. The LGA is aware of steps being taken by government to promote stakeholder involvement and discussions, to plan for the WEEE Directive and, for its own part, is anxious to engage in dialogue with the relevant government departments.

  Finally, on the question of the "root and branch" review by DEFRA of the Special Waste Regulations, the LGA is aware of the considerable interest among local authorities in the progress being made in this review, and in the eventual outcomes. The Association would be interested to hear what the latest position is with regard to the progress being made.

Local Government Association

16 May 2002

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