Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Eighth Report


The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:



Management of hazardous waste in the United Kingdom will change significantly over the next few years. A suite of new European Directives will direct hazardous waste away from landfill, impose greater requirements for waste treatment and require stricter pollution controls of incinerators. Furthermore, the revised European Hazardous Waste List and the introduction of producer-responsibility legislation, such as the End of Life Vehicles Directive and the proposed Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, will define many more types of waste as hazardous for the first time. The introduction of the changes has caused a great deal of uncertainty for waste producers and the waste management industry. The most immediate changes are those under the Landfill Directive, which start to take effect from 16 July 2002. This is despite the fact that crucial technical requirements of the Landfill Directive have still not been agreed. We are profoundly concerned that this should have occurred. We are also disturbed that, in a sector that relies almost entirely on private industry, the Government does not have an adequate strategic relationship with industry. We support proposals for an industrial waste forum and urge the Government to use the forum discuss how its hazardous waste policy can be achieved. We are also concerned that the Environment Agency is under-resourced to fulfil its regulatory functions. Finally, we recommend that the Government instigates a thorough review of the process by which environmental legislation is arrived at in the European Commission


1. We decided to appoint a Sub-committee to undertake an inquiry into the issues relating to hazardous waste management and announced our inquiry in a press notice issued on 24 April 2002.[1] The terms of reference for the inquiry were:

    "Taking note of the current review by the Performance and Innovation Unit, the Committee will examine whether the particular problems of dealing with hazardous (special) waste have properly been taken into account in the development of waste disposal policies. It will specifically:
  • consider the impact on hazardous waste disposal of past changes in legislation governing landfill, and, with regard to hazardous waste, the adequacy of preparations for the implementation of the Landfill Directive (Council Directive 99/31/EC) in the draft Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002;
  • examine the steps taken by the Government to prepare for the implementation of the Incineration of Hazardous Waste Directive (Council Directive 94/67/EC) and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive (Council Directive 96/61/EC), as well as the End-of-Life Vehicles Directive (Council Directive 2000/53/EC) and the proposed Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive inasmuch as they deal with hazardous or special wastes; and
  • consider the progress of DEFRA's [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] 'root and branch' review of its Special Waste Regulations".

5. In response to our invitation to submit written evidence we received 23 written memoranda. We held four oral evidence sessions in June and July 2002, hearing from representatives from Shanks Group plc, the Chemical Industries Association, the Environment Agency, the Local Government Association, the Minister for the Environment, Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP and officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Environmental Services Association and the British Cement Association. We wish to thank all those who gave evidence, either orally or in writing. We made a visit to a waste transfer site and a waste treatment site in Liverpool, both operated by Shanks Group plc, Cleanaway's high temperature incinerator at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire; and a landfill site in Arpley operated by Waste Recycling Group plc. We are extremely grateful to those whom we met during the visit for their help and advice, and to the Environment Agency, which arranged the visit.

6. Broadly speaking, hazardous waste is waste that intrinsically poses a risk to human health or the environment. Under European Union law, hazardous waste is defined as waste featuring on a list drawn up by the Commission (the 'Hazardous Waste List'[2]). These wastes have one or more of fourteen properties listed in the Hazardous Waste Directive, which include being explosive, flammable, carcinogenic or infectious.[3]

7. Under the Environmental Protection Act of 1990, hazardous waste is called 'special waste' in the United Kingdom. At present the definitions of 'special' and 'hazardous' wastes are slightly different. For example, the United Kingdom applies thresholds for some hazards to exclude lower risk materials and all prescription only medicines are classed as special waste.

8. More than six million tonnes of special waste was disposed of in England and Wales in 2000. This involved 200,000 producers, of which 90,000 produced special waste regularly or in large quantities, or both. In 1998-99 the three largest waste streams by weight were oils and oil and water mixtures (1,027,516 tonnes), construction and demolition waste (1,005,250 tonnes) and waste arising from organic chemical processes (539,742 tonnes).[4] About 43% of hazardous waste is currently sent to landfill. [5] At the time of writing there were 1430 landfill sites in England and Wales, of which 241 accepted hazardous wastes.[6]

Legal Framework

9. The European Union framework for waste management is set out in the Framework Directive on Waste.[7] It defines waste, specifies the preferred options for waste management (the 'waste hierarchy') and provides a list of common principles for waste management. The waste hierarchy has waste prevention and minimisation at the top, followed by re-use and recycling and finally disposal. For disposal, incineration with energy recovery is preferred to incineration without energy recovery. Landfill, Britain's most commonly used method of disposal, is the least favoured option. The principles for waste management include the use of the best available technology not entailing excessive cost in the establishment of a network of waste disposal and treatment facilities, proximity of treatment and disposal sites to the source of waste, national self-sufficiency in waste disposal (ie. reliance on national waste disposal and treatment facilities to avoid trans-boundary movements of waste) and the 'polluter pays' principle (ie. the cost of disposing of waste is borne by the producer or holder of the waste).

   10. All waste (hazardous or not) is subject to the Waste Framework Directive. Hazardous waste is also subject to the Hazardous Waste Directive,[8] which sets out the European Union framework for the management, recovery and correct disposal of hazardous waste.

11. The way hazardous waste is managed will change a great deal over the next few years. On 16 July 2002 the first changes required under the Landfill Directive (Council Directive 1999/31/EC on the Landfill of Waste) came into force. Further significant changes to hazardous waste management under the Directive will come into effect in 2004 and beyond.

12. Other recently adopted items of European law will also have an effect:

  • A revised European Waste Catalogue and hazardous waste list came into force in January 2001 that classified around 200 wastes as hazardous for the first time. This will not only increase the volume of hazardous waste that must be properly managed but also the number of producers who must deal with hazardous waste.

  • The Waste Incineration Directive (Council Directive 2000/76/EC on the incineration of waste) must be implemented by the end of 2002. It aims to reduce emissions of pollutants from incinerators and co-incinerators that burn waste.

  • By 2007, all existing industrial plant will have to comply with the requirements of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive (Council Directive 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning integrated pollution prevention and control), which can include reducing the environmental impact of waste disposal.

  • Provisions in the End of Life Vehicles Directive (Council Directive 2000/53/EC) and the proposed Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive require hazardous components of such equipment to be removed, and where possible recovered, before the equipment is disposed of.[9]


13. The objective of the Landfill Directive is "to prevent or reduce as far as possible negative effects on the environment from the landfilling of waste, by introducing stringent technical requirements for waste and landfills".[10] It introduces extensive changes to landfill practice and imposes more stringent requirements on operators of landfill sites. The key new requirements are:

      (a)   The separation of landfills into three types: for only hazardous, non-hazardous or inert waste. This will mean that the three types of waste must be disposed of separately, although some stable and non-reactive hazardous wastes, such as asbestos, can be disposed of in separate cells in non-hazardous landfill sites.

      (b)  An end to the practice of co-disposal by July 2004. Co-disposal is the disposal of hazardous waste with non-hazardous waste, such as household waste, which can attenuate the potentially polluting and hazardous properties of the hazardous waste. It is very common practice in the United Kingdom at present.

      (c)  The development and introduction of waste acceptance criteria which define which types of waste can be accepted at each type of landfill.

      (d)  The requirement to treat most wastes before landfill in order to minimise their undesirable properties. This is most likely to become the responsibility of the waste holder/ producer as facilities are unlikely to be available at the point of disposal.

      (e)  The Directive bans certain types of waste from landfill including liquid wastes and waste which is 'in landfill conditions', explosive, corrosive, oxidising, highly flammable or flammable and infectious hospital and clinical waste. (Flammable and explosive wastes are not currently landfilled in the United Kingdom in any case.)

14. Operators of existing landfill sites must decide whether they wish them to be classified as hazardous waste sites by 16 July 2002. By this date, all sites must produce a site conditioning plan which sets out the details of the site and how the management of the site will meet the requirements of the Directive. The Environment Agency has sent a Site Conditioning Plan Pack to all operators to help operators to prepare their plans. After the deadline it will be an offence to operate a site without having submitted a plan. The Directive requires that the ban on liquid and other wastes from landfill be implemented at hazardous waste sites by 16 July 2002. As we discuss in paragraph 19, this ban comes into force before the final decision on the waste acceptance criteria.

15. The European Court of Justice has instigated infraction proceedings against the United Kingdom and six other European Union countries[11] over their failure to meet the agreed deadline of 16 July 2001 for transposing the Landfill Directive into national legislation.

16. The Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 eventually came into force on 15 June 2002. DEFRA told the Committee that the delay was due in part to a 'comprehensive consultation process' that was conducted 'to ensure that implementation proceeds as smoothly as possible'.[12] Nevertheless, the lateness of agreeing the Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 has meant that the time between the Regulations being finalised and their requirements coming into effect has been extremely short.

Timetable of principal events relating to Directive 99/31/EC on the Landfill of Waste

JulyCommission proposes a Directive on the landfilling of waste
OctoberCouncil adopts Common Position.
May European Parliament rejects the proposed Directive for failure to ensure high enough level of environmental protection.
MarchRevised proposal introduced to European Parliament.
AprilHouse of Lords Select Committee on European Communities publishes its Seventeenth Report, Session 1997-98 HL Paper 83: Sustainable Landfill, which considers the revised proposal.
JuneCouncil adopts second Common Position.
MarchGovernment submits Explanatory Memorandum to House of Lords Select Committee on European Communities and House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee
19 April15th Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 1998-99, HC 34-xv published, classing the draft Directive as 'politically important, uncleared' and requests more information.
Government Submits Supplementary Explanatory memorandum.
26 AprilEC adopts Council Directive 99/31/EC on the landfill of waste
30 April16th Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 1998-99, HC 34-xvi published, classing the draft Directive as 'politically important, cleared'. (The meeting itself was held a week before the Environment Council met and adopted the Directive.)
OctoberGovernment publishes its first consultation paper on implementation of the Directive.
JulyOriginal deadline for agreement of Waste Acceptance Criteria by EC Technical Adaptation Committee
AugustGovernment publishes its second consultation paper on the Directive, including draft Regulations.
March(draft) Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 laid before Parliament.
JuneLandfill (England and Wales) Regulations come into force
16 JulyLandfill site operators must classify their sites as one of 'hazardous' 'non-hazardous' or 'inert'.
Site conditioning plans must be submitted to the Environment Agency.
Certain wastes, eg. liquids and corrosive wastes, banned from landfill.
23 JulyCommission due to make final decision on Waste Acceptance Criteria.
JulyBan on co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste
July?Waste Acceptance Criteria likely to come into force.


17. The End-of-Life Vehicles Directive (Council Directive 2000/53/EC) requires that all environmentally hazardous components of such vehicles be recovered and that priority is given to re-use and re-cycling of vehicle components, including potentially hazardous ones such as batteries and oil.

18. The proposed Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) sets out conditions for the treatment and storage of hazardous components in such equipment. For example, components that contain heavy metals might have to be removed before disposal, and component that contain PVC might be banned from incineration.[13]


19. With all these changes in prospect, it concerned us that the dominant theme in the evidence submitted to this inquiry was that of uncertainty. This was expressed most strongly by waste producers and waste managers but also by the Government, local Government and the regulator. For example, the Chemical Industries Association argued in its memorandum to the Sub-committee that "in truth, our sector has more questions than answers with regard to the shape of industrial waste management in the short to medium-term as there are so many uncertainties in this policy area and many strands of waste policy are developing separately"[14]. In turn, Cleanaway said "we do not know what criteria waste will have to meet to be allowed into landfill, we do not know what level of treatment will be required and we do not even know the exact dates when parts of the Directive will come into effect. Government cannot leave the future of hazardous waste management to be determined by market forces and then bemoan the fact that businesses are cautious of investing before knowing whether there is a commercial case for it."[15]


20. The Waste Acceptance Criteria, which are crucial technical requirements of the Landfill Directive, were not included in the original Directive. Instead they were to be agreed by the Technical Adaptation Committee (a committee of European Union officials chaired by the Commission). Originally the Commission planned to finalise the Criteria by July 2001, but "but in the event considered that the need for further modelling work to underpin the criteria meant that this date was unachievable".[16] The final decision on the criteria is now expected to take place on 23 July 2002, that is, a week after the date by which landfill site operators must decide how to classify their sites.

21. This delay should not have occurred. Not only will the Waste Acceptance Criteria determine the pre-disposal treatment facilities needed; but they are crucial to landfill site operators' decisions about what category of site they wish to operate. Specific examples were outlined by the Environmental Services Association when they appeared before the Committee on 2 July:

    " In 14 days' time, hazardous liquids will be banned from landfill; we still do not have an agreed definition of what a liquid is[17]. In 14 days' time, corrosive hazardous waste will be banned from landfill; we do not have an agreed definition of what corrosive is, in terms of what will be banned and where the line will be drawn. We do not have a date on when the Acceptance Criteria for hazardous waste will be brought in; we do not have a date on when the Acceptance Criteria for non-hazardous waste will be brought in. We do not have a date on when the pre­treatment requirements for non-hazardous waste will be brought in; we do not know what the Acceptance Criteria are."[18]

22. The Government says that it has done its best to drive the Technical Adaption Committee's decision process forward:

    " we have led and funded much of the modelling work that is informing the criteria, we have hosted meetings, and have emphasised to the Commission the importance we attach to securing criteria as soon as possible." [19]

23. It appreciates that "the absence of agreed criteria has caused uncertainty and made operators' decisions about the type of site to operate difficult. It may also have delayed decisions about investing in alternative treatment facilities until the standards to which waste must be treated to gain access to a landfill site are finalised" [20] and has argued that the United Kingdom should therefore "be given a realistic timescale for transposing and implementing the criteria". [21] When the Minister appeared before the Sub-committee he told us that "the Commission has now agreed a transition period to bring the waste acceptance criteria into effect up to July 2005 and we are in discussion with the industry as to whether that does constitute a sufficient timescale". [22]

24. Although it seems that there is little more anyone in this country could do to speed up agreement of the waste acceptance criteria, we find it astonishing that once again the Government should have to agree to a European Directive without a clear understanding of its technical requirements, particularly in this case, as the United Kingdom is more reliant on landfill than many of the other Member States. While it may have been appropriate to delegate the formulation of the Waste Acceptance Criteria to the Technical Adaptation Committee, the Directive should not have been adopted until they had completed their work. We are concerned that landfill operators are required to make crucial decisions about the future designations of their sites without the Waste Acceptance Criteria having been agreed. We can only reiterate our previous recommendation, made in relation to the disposal of refrigerators, that in cases such as this, which require radical changes in the practices of an important industry, any new item of European legislation should not be agreed until all the practical implications of implementation are well-understood.[23]

25. The Minister for the Environment told the Committee that

    "It would indeed be very helpful if we could have a discussion, together with the Commission, to ensure first of all that the detailed requirements for implementation are fully understood before a directive or regulation is passed or adopted, and that any matters which were not foreseen should then be promptly and rapidly dealt with."[24]

We recommend that the Minister takes this discussion forward and instigates a thorough review of the process by which environmental legislation is arrived at in the European Commission.

26. Even the fact that the Commission has agreed to a transition period for the introduction of the Waste Acceptance Criteria seems likely to cause problems, which are discussed in paragraphs 49-50 below. When fundamental aspects of legislation are left to be developed after a Directive is signed, as in this case, we urge the Government to lobby vigorously for the implementation date of the Directive to be tied to the date when all the criteria are finalised and not to the date on which the Directive was agreed.


27. The Environment Agency collates data on all movements of hazardous waste in England and Wales. These data include where the waste is taken from and where to, its physical form and quantity, its chemical composition and its European Waste Catalogue classification. It takes a long time to publish the data; the most recent published data are for 1998-99. The review of the Special Waste Regime in this country is expected to shift the burden of documenting waste shipments onto the producer, which may alleviate this problem. Both the Environment Agency and those in the waste industry feel that the quality of the data could be improved. The Environment agency and DEFRA must work with the waste management industry to provide timely high-quality data on the amount of hazardous waste produced each year and to develop management methods to assist in planning for future capacity.


28. Despite the absence of the final Waste Acceptance Criteria, the Government and the Environment Agency have attempted to provide guidance to waste producers and waste managers to help them prepare for the implementation of the Landfill Directive this summer.

29. Interim Waste Acceptance Criteria were included in the Landfill Regulations of 2002, but these are very general in scope. Draft versions of the European criteria have been published. Both the Environment Agency and the Government believed that the final agreed European Waste Acceptance Criteria would be very close to the draft version. During Question Time on 27 June 2002 the Minister for the Environment said that the Commission had recently completed the 'determination of exactly what the waste acceptance criteria are'[25]. In his oral evidence to the Sub-committee he clarified this by saying

    "The final vote will be taken, as I understand it, by the Technical Advisory Committee on 23 July. This will be in the light of the drafting of those waste acceptance criteria which has already of course been extensively considered. I am not suggesting that this is just a rubber stamping: it is not, but I think there is every expectation that they will be largely accepted in the form they are."[26]

30. The Environment Agency therefore encouraged the waste industry to proceed on that basis. While most of the evidence submitted to the Committee appreciates that the Environment Agency has done the best it can under difficult circumstances, waste management companies emphasised that they did not feel able to make investment decisions based on non-statutory guidance of the kind provided by the Environment Agency.

31. The Chief Executive of the Environmental Services Association told us that "on 15 May, I was summoned, at relatively short notice, to a meeting with Mr Meacher and the Chemical Industries Association and the Environment Agency, and at that meeting, ... one of the two Agency people there said the Waste Acceptance Criteria were already in a draft form and had been made available to Environmental Services Association, on the strength of which our members could start investing. But since that meeting, ... the Waste Acceptance Criteria have materially changed, the draft criteria have materially changed"[27]. He argues that it would therefore have been a mistake to have invested on the basis of the draft Waste Acceptance Criteria.

32. The evidence given to us by the waste management industry makes it clear that they believe that there is no natural market for waste processing,[28] that producers of waste will usually choose the cheapest legal option available to them and that therefore "all significant demand accrues from informed legislation and its effective enforcement". [29] To the extent that this is indeed the case, the lessons learned from the fridge crisis also apply here and, as the Government suggested then, it remains up to the Government "to create a policy framework that stimulates innovative and market-led solutions". [30] This needs to be provided well before implementation dates and part of this policy framework must include ensuring sufficient regulatory certainty to encourage waste management companies to invest at an appropriate time.

Government Action on hazardous waste


33. Under the Environmental Protection Act of 1990, hazardous waste is called 'special waste' in the United Kingdom. At present the definitions of 'special' and 'hazardous' wastes are slightly different. There are currently wastes which the United Kingdom may regard as 'special' under the Special Waste Regulations of 1996, but which do not appear on the European Hazardous Waste List, for example, all prescription only medicines are classed as special waste. Equally, there may be wastes which are on the Hazardous Waste List but are not considered "special".

34. The Government is currently reviewing the Special Waste Regulations. The review aims to address the reasons for the European Commission's infraction charges outlined above, including the replacement of the term "special waste" with "hazardous waste". It will also incorporate the most recent European Waste Catalogue and Hazardous Waste List, thereby defining approximately 200 wastes as hazardous for the first time. Many of the newly hazardous wastes are everyday items, such as PC and TV monitors and fluorescent light tubes. [31]


35. The Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit is currently conducting a study on waste, which will be completed by October 2002. Its objective is

Its main focus is on solid municipal waste, although it is "considering wider controlled wastes as far as these impact on proposed waste management options".[33]

36. The changes in hazardous waste management required by the Landfill Directive, and other European Union Directives such as the End of Live Vehicles Directive, will have a profound effect not only on the way landfill sites are managed but on other waste management options too, when waste is diverted from landfill. We recommend that the Performance and Innovation Unit consider the issues surrounding the provision of new hazardous waste management facilities in the light of the Government's aim to move waste up the waste hierarchy and adhere to the principles of proximity of disposal and self-sufficiency in waste management.

37. The Government should clarify its position on the specific role of incineration in the disposal of hazardous waste.

1   The press notice can be viewed on our website, at Back

2   The most recent Hazardous Waste List was published in 2000 , although it has since been amended. It came into force on 1 January 2002 and was intended to form a consistent waste classification system across the European Union. Back

3   Council Directive 91/689/EEC of 12 December 1991 on hazardous waste, Article 1(4) and Annex III. Back

4   Data provided by the Environment Agency. Back

5   Memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency, Ev 24. Back

6   Data provided by the Environment Agency. Back

7   Official title: 'Council Directive 75/442/EEC on waste, as amended by Council Directive 91/156/EEC' Back

8   Council Directive 91/689/EEC of 12 December 1991 on hazardous waste. Back

9   See End of Life Vehicles Directive, First Report of the Trade and Industry Committee, HC (2001-02) 299 and End of Life Vehicles Directive: Government Reply, Second Special Report of the Trade and Industry Committee, HC (2001-02) 678. Back

10   Council Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste. Back

11   Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, and Portugal. Back

12   Memorandum submitted by DEFRA, Ev 62. Back

13   Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on waste electrical and electronic equipment; see­lex/en/com/pdf/2000/en_500PC0347_02.pdf. Back

14   Memorandum submitted by the Chemical Industries Association, Ev 1, para 5. Back

15   Memorandum submitted by Cleanaway, Ev 132. Back

16   Memorandum submitted by DEFRA, Ev 65, para 37. Back

17   The definition of "liquid waste" and the distinction between a liquid and a sludge is important as sludge is not banned from landfill. Back

18   Evidence taken on 2 July 2002, Q361, Ev 95. Back

19   Memorandum submitted by DEFRA, Ev 64 para 38. Back

20   Memorandum submitted by DEFRA, Ev 64, para 39. Back

21   Memorandum submitted by DEFRA, Ev 64, para 39. Back

22   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 77, Q295. Back

23   Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Session 2001-02, HC 673 - 12. Back

24   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 75, Q279. Back

25   HC Deb, 27 June 2002, col 945. Back

26   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 75, Q278. Back

27   Evidence taken on 2 July 2002, Ev 94, Q359. Back

28   Evidence taken on 10 June 2002, Ev 15, Q64. Back

29   Memorandum submitted by Shanks Group plc, Ev 13. Back

30   Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,Session 2001-02, HC 673 - 18. Back

31   Evidence submitted by DEFRA, Ev 65, para43. Back

32   See http://www.cabinet­ Back

33   See http://www.cabinet­ Back

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