Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Eighth Report



38. Almost all waste collection, storage, treatment and disposal is managed by the private sector in the United Kingdom. In England and Wales, the Environment Agency is the regulator. It monitors imports and exports of hazardous waste as well as movements of such waste within England and Wales. It licences and inspects sites for storage, recovery and disposal and responds to fly-tipping and other environmental crime. Local Government prepares local waste plans and regional strategies, collects some hazardous waste from households (eg. asbestos) and also responds to fly-tipping.

39. The Government's role includes negotiating and agreeing European Union Directives, setting United Kingdom law and forming Government policies and strategies. One of its key tasks is to consult with the relevant actors over new items of legislation.

40. DEFRA believes that its consultation over the implementation of the Landfill Directive has been comprehensive. In its memorandum, it said:

    "Two consultation papers on the implementation of the Landfill Directive have been issued. The first was published in October 2000, the second in August 2001, containing a copy of draft regulations. In addition, a number of consultation seminars on various aspects of the Directive have been held, as have regular liaison meetings with key stakeholders. These established sounding boards to discuss the proposals on a number of issues, for example to inform our negotiating stance on the waste acceptance criteria. The responses to both consultation exercises were very thoroughly analysed and the results fed into both the development of the regulations and wider implementation policy."[34]

41. The Chemical Industries Association told the Committee that "there is usually some attempt made to take the views of industry while the Directive terms are being negotiated, but it is quite often the case that the United Kingdom views are in a minority in terms of the discussions at member state level ... What does not always happen - and this may be an area for improvement - is more input from the regulatory bodies like the Environment Agency, who are going to have to implement the Directive, in this case once it is in place, so that they can keep an eye on what the practical problems might be of dealing with it on a day-to-day basis."[35]

42. The Environmental Services Association told us that although they were consulted on certain issues — for example, its Chief Executive is on the Secretary of State's Advisory Board on the PIU study — such consultation is not at the strategic level that they would wish for. They said that they had "never had a substantive discussion with DEFRA on the strategy of waste management in this country"[36].

43. Mr Fielding of the Local Government Association (LGA) told the Committee that, from his perspective as a Waste Advisor to the LGA, " the consultations have been quite thorough and technical. I think that has not always been to best advantage, because they have tended to be quite difficult things to wade through ... to find out what the implications are has been quite difficult. As a consequence, I suspect that the comments this Government has received have probably not been as thorough as they would have wished."

44. While the Committee commends the principle of the Government's consulting with all parties likely to be affected by the new Directive, we recommend that the Government takes the utmost care to ensure that such consultations occur as early as possible, are of the right kind and are at the right level.

45. It is vital that stakeholders are adequately consulted while the Directive is being developed and negotiated as well as when it is implemented into United Kingdom law. The consultations should be tailored to the role of those being consulted. For example, the basic implications for waste producers and local government should not be lost in a mass of technical data. Finally it seems clear to us that if private industries are to provide the solutions to waste management problems, they should be involved in the development of any strategy to achieve such solutions.


46. The demands placed on the Environment Agency are likely to increase significantly because of the implementation of the Landfill Directive and the expanded European Waste Catalogue. This will be exacerbated as the requirements of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive and other new environmental regulations take effect. The legislation in this area is complex and many of the Environment Agency's regulatory tasks demand a high level of expertise and experience.

47. Not only this, but the Environment Agency and others have expressed concern that the increased costs of waste disposal expected to result from new Directives, such as the Landfill and End of Life Vehicles Directives, may encourage illegal and unsafe disposal.[37] On its visit to Liverpool, the Committee saw examples of illegal hazardous waste dumping and learnt of the high costs of responding to such crimes.

48. Both producers and managers of hazardous waste expressed concern that the Environment Agency has neither the resources nor the qualified staff to fulfill all of its many functions. Dr Leinster of the Environment Agency told us that, rather than resources, per se, the question :

    "is one of competence, and the level at which we can afford to pay and keep skilled people within the Agency. Now I am not questioning at all the competency of Agency employees, but we are a very good training-ground for others then to come and take from us. So a number of people join the Agency, get a good training, learn, and then others are able to entice them away with higher salaries. I think that if we were able to pay more for some of our regulators then we would not have quite so many enticed away to other places."[38]

49. We are concerned that the Environment Agency does not have the resources it needs to meet the increasing demands on it. We are particularly concerned about the issue of poor pay and the retention of skilled staff. We therefore recommend that, as a matter of urgency, the Government re-examines the funding available to the Environment Agency and ensures that it can adequately enforce legislation and prevent and respond to illegal disposal.

The future for landfill

50. The Landfill Directive sets stringent operating standards for landfill sites and imposes a greater requirement for after-care of closed sites. Although some sites that currently accept hazardous waste are likely to classify themselves as 'non-hazardous' on July 16 2002, the biggest change is expected in July 2004, when those sites that have opted to be 'interim hazardous' sites may no longer accept both hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Many witnesses to this inquiry expected a sharp fall in the number of hazardous waste landfill sites on that date. Although a reduction in the amount of waste going to landfill is consistent with a policy of moving waste up the waste hierarchy, the questions of what alternatives are needed, and whether they can be provided in time, remain.

51. When the Sub-committee visited the Arpley landfill site operated by Waste Recycling Group plc, we were told that Waste Recycling has designated the majority of its 67 landfill sites as hazardous with the specific intention of then re-classifying them as non-hazardous in 2004. The managers of the site emphasised that industry would need clear comprehensive unequivocal and realistic guidance as to what was expected. They did not think that two years was a long time for the introduction and implementation of new management systems and told us that recent experience regarding the drafting and introduction of relevant guidance did not bode well.


52. Co-disposal, where hazardous and non-hazardous wastes are landfilled together under controlled conditions, has been a very common practice in the United Kingdom until now. In co-disposal, bio-chemical processes within the landfilled waste attenuate the hazardous properties of that waste over a period of time and this is viewed as a safe and appropriate management technique by the Environmental Services Association.[39]

53. Nevertheless, co-disposal is not acceptable under the Landfill Directive and must cease by July 2004. This means that hazardous waste landfill site operators must stop accepting non-hazardous waste in July 2004. The benefits of co-disposal will no longer be available. Originally, it was thought that the waste acceptance criteria would come into force on the same date and that therefore the hazardous waste entering landfill after 2004 would have been treated to minimise the risks it posed.

54. However, because of the delay in agreeing the Waste Acceptance Criteria, the Commission has agreed that the implementation of these criteria may be delayed until 2005. The waste management industry has expressed grave concerns that, should there be a period when co-disposal is banned but the Waste Acceptance Criteria have not yet been introduced, disposal of hazardous waste by itself will pose an unacceptably high risk to the environment. Waste management companies have told us that they would not be willing to operate sites under such conditions and the Environmental Services Association does not believe that the Environment Agency would licence such sites in any case.[40]

55. The evidence from the waste management industry urges the Government to bring forward the implementation date for the waste acceptance criteria so that it coincides with the ban on co-disposal and avoids the need for any period during which hazardous waste that does not meet the Criteria is landfilled by itself.

56. The Minister told us that:

    "I do not know that the Environmental Services Association are keen that the Waste Acceptance Criteria are introduced a year earlier - that is in July 2004 - because they do not want untreated waste going into hazardous only landfill. I do not think that is the issue, actually, because the Landfill Directive requires all hazardous waste to be treated in July 2004"[41]

57. The Environment Agency told us that, in order to avoid any pollution or harm from the deposit of hazardous wastes alone, the Agency intends that co-disposal loading rates will continue to apply. That is, the ratio of hazardous wastes to non-hazardous wastes, and any mixing requirements, will apply, using the non-hazardous wastes already deposited.[42]

58. We recommend as a matter of urgency that the Government formally assesses the risks posed by the landfill of hazardous waste between the date that the ban on co-disposal comes into force and the introduction of the Waste Acceptance Criteria. If, as the Environmental Services Association believes, these risks are unacceptable, contingency plans should be made for that period.

The future for incineration


59. The Government's Waste Strategy 2000 "recognises the importance of having available a network of high temperature incinerators, suitable for the disposal of hazardous organic wastes and other wastes where high temperature incineration is the Best Practicable Environmental Option".[43] Despite this, the United Kingdom's high temperature incineration capacity has declined from four plants with a combined capacity of over 165, 000 tonnes in 1999 to two plants with a combined capacity of 105, 000 tonnes today.[44]

60. The operators of the remaining incinerators, at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire and at Fawley in Hampshire, feel that the decline is partly due to a lack of demand in the absence of regulation to direct waste towards high temperature incineration and away from what they regard as less environmentally suitable options. High temperature incineration is expensive. As long as there are cheaper legal alternatives, they will be used.

61. The operators of high temperature incinerators feel that they are in competition with the cement industry for certain waste streams, particularly those wastes with the highest calorific values. The cement industry uses such wastes as substitute fuels in the manufacture of cement and high temperature incineration uses them to burn lower calorific value (CV) wastes. The European Commission classes the incineration of waste during the cement-making process as 'recovery', but incineration of the same waste in high temperature incineration is classed as 'disposal'. Ms Gill Weeks, Regulatory Affairs Director of Cleanaway, told us that if high temperature incinerators did not have access to enough high calorific value wastes, they would have to use fossil fuels in their place[45]and that therefore the incineration of high CV waste in high temperature incineration should be classed as 'recovery' too. The operators feel that the difference in classification mean that waste producers prefer to send their waste to cement kilns rather to high temperature incineration because they then "get more points on [their] EMAS [European Union Eco-Management and Audit Scheme] score,"[46] but that incineration in cement kilns is not necessarily as environmentally suitable as within a high temperature incinerator.

62. The Minister told us that he was aware of these concerns, but that the United Kingdom is bound by European Union legislation. He said "we are looking to see whether within the current framework it is possible to find a way of meeting [the high temperature incineration industry's] requirements."[47]

63. It is the Committee's view that there should be a diversity of management options for hazardous waste and that high temperature incineration is part of this. The continued existence of such a diversity is called into question by the lack of demand for high temperature incineration for high calorific value wastes. We recommend that if the Government wishes to sustain diversity in this sector, it must recognise the problems faced by high temperature incinerators and should look again at the equivalency of use of high calorific values wastes as fuel in high temperature incineration and cement kilns.


64. The British Cement Association told us that "the cement industry can provide part of the waste solution to the problems that we are all facing."[48] It did not accept that the cement industry posed a threat to high temperature incineration, saying that

    "[the Environmental Services Association] gave evidence that there are more high temperature incineration kilns in European Member States than there are here, and yet Europe uses far more waste fuels in cement kilns; so the two things do not seem, to me, to be a problem, or a contradiction. It just seems that we have got to get better at playing the game."[49]

65. In both its written and oral evidence to this inquiry, the cement industry told us that its ability to manage more waste streams was hampered by the Substitute Fuels Protocol (SFP).[50] The SFP is a set of guidelines used by the Environment Agency to assess the suitability of a particular waste stream for use as fuel in the cement-making process.

66. The cement industry told us that assessment of new waste streams took a very long time and that the SFP had been " superseded by IPPC [Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control], the Waste Incineration Directive and some work we have been doing with the Agency on improved stakeholder dialogue."[51] They would like the Environment Agency to "review the operation of the Substitute Fuels Protocol and speed up the adoption of alternative fuels [by the cement industry]".[52] The Committee believes that the primary consideration in allowing waste to be incinerated should be the overall environmental impact of doing so. It remains for the Environment Agency to decide how best to ensure that the environmental impact of waste management is minimised within the current regulatory regime.

Alternative recovery and disposal options

67. Landfill and incineration are not the only options for dealing with hazardous waste. Shanks Group plc told us of innovative technologies for returning many hazardous waste streams to the productive economy.[53] While we insist that the option that presents the best net environmental benefit (or least environmental cost) is to be preferred, we expect that more of these alternative management techniques will come into use when a greater volume of hazardous waste is diverted from landfill under the Landfill Directive. Furthermore, except for the most stable and unreactive wastes, hazardous wastes that are landfilled will need to be treated beforehand.

68. The point of most immediate concern is 16 July 2002, when certain hazardous waste streams are banned from landfill altogether. In its written evidence, the Government told us that it had

    "concluded that there was sufficient alternative disposal systems (in use or planned) to cope with the large volume of organic process waste streams requiring diversion from landfill [...but that] additional facilities might be required for oily wastes, contaminated soils, and inorganic chemical wastes."[54]

69. According to the Government's own memorandum, "the most significant hazardous waste streams by mass are oily wastes and construction and demolition wastes, largely contaminated soil"[55] so the Government has no reason to be complacent about the provision of additional facilities for these waste streams.

70. The Minister told us that the Government had discussed the need for additional facilities with the industry, that he did not believe there would be a shortfall in capacity and that the industry had had adequate time to meet the requirements of the Landfill Directive in this respect.[56] He said "I am not sure there is anything more that we can do."[57] When asked what the consequences would be if industry had not responded to the need for alternative facilities, the Minister said "If one draws up regulations, and gives people adequate time in order to meet those regulations ... and they are not met, then in the normal way there would be a prosecution."[58]

71. It seems to us that there is a flaw in this line of reasoning. Waste producers are obliged to send their waste down a legal disposal route, but it is up to the private waste management companies to provide those disposal routes. It seems unjust to prosecute waste producers if the waste management industry has not provided the necessary facilities for them to use.

72. The Minister did not tell us when it became clear to the Government that alternative facilities would be needed. Given the time needed to obtain planning consent for, and to build, new facilities, unless notice was given to the waste management industry several years ago, we fear there may yet be a shortage of appropriate facilities. We intend to return to this issue once the Landfill Directive has fully come into force and assess then whether the Government's preparations were indeed adequate and whether the apparent absence of any contingency plan is justified.

Future capacity

73. The ban in 2004 on co-disposal, and the likely reduction in hazardous-waste only landfill sites, are expected to have a great impact on hazardous waste management. There is a great deal of uncertainty on the part of all involved about whether there will be sufficient capacity for management of hazardous waste when the July 2004 deadline is reached.

74. It is generally assumed that market forces will eventually ensure that the necessary facilities are provided. But, one of the key concerns is that the planning process for any new facility is so slow. There may therefore be a hiatus between the 2004 deadline and the point at which alternative facilities come on-stream. The witnesses to this inquiry felt that the proposals outlined in the Green Paper on planning did not address these problems. During our visit to Cheshire we were told that public perception of the waste management industry and the special waste management industry in particular is such that proposals for new facilities often met with fierce opposition.

75. The Government urgently needs better to engage the public in waste management issues in order to arrive at a hazardous waste management infrastructure that meets the needs of industry, poses the least threat to public health and the environment and is not distrusted by the communities surrounding it. We urge the Government and the PIU to address ways of better informing the public about hazardous waste management issues and addressing their concerns.

A national hazardous waste forum

76. The legal framework surrounding hazardous waste management is complex, at both the European and United Kingdom level. There is a family of European Directives relating to waste; provisions relating to hazardous waste occur in many of them. In addition, other environmental Directives not immediately concerned with waste management also impact upon the way hazardous waste is produced and dealt with. The Minister doubts whether there are senior EC officials taking an overview of all the European Union law relating to hazardous waste or who are "orchestrating it a consistent compatible way."[59]

77. At the United Kingdom level, not only is the law complex, but the responsibility for hazardous waste management is shared between the United Kingdom Government, the devolved administrations, local government and the regulators. Within the United Kingdom Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has overall responsibility for waste matters, but the Department for Trade and Industry takes the lead on producer-responsibility initiatives, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is in charge of planning and the Treasury is involved in, for example, the operation of the Landfill Tax.

78. Given that the determination of waste policy is dominated by the European Union and the provision of facilities is down to the private sector, the Government's key role is coordination. It must provide the link between the two to ensure the best outcome for the United Kingdom's public health, the environment and United Kingdom industry.

79. In the light of this complexity, the waste management industry has called for the Government to produce a national hazardous waste strategy to ensure that the requirements of European Union law are met, that the principles of self-sufficiency and proximity in waste management are adhered to and that publically acceptable solutions are found.[60] The Environment Agency supports this idea. In its written evidence, it recommended "the development and implementation by Government of a national hazardous waste management plan to ensure an adequate national network of hazardous waste management facilities".[61] It advocates a "national overview, over the number, the type, the distribution of hazardous waste facilities that we will need into the future. Without that overview we are depending either on happenstance or individual commercial decisions, and there is no guarantee that we would end up with the type and distribution of sites that we need".[62]

80. The Minister rejected the proposal for a specific hazardous waste management plan saying

    "I would strongly assert the United Kingdom already has a national waste strategy, not only for England but for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have the Environment Agency Strategic Waste Management Assessments. Let us be aware, hazardous waste is only approximately two per cent of total waste arising so there is really no need for a separate waste plan ... I am always against trying to solve problems by having separate committees or separate plans"[63]

81. We do not accept that Waste Strategy 2000 provides an adequate plan with respect to hazardous waste streams. For example, with regard to the specific issue of setting targets for hazardous waste reduction, the Minister told the Committee that there were targets for the reduction of hazardous waste in Waste Strategy 2000. [64] He said that the Government was going to achieve the targets

    "in exactly the same way as all the reductions are to be got. We have set targets which require a doubling of the level of recycling and recovery for all local authorities (and that covers the whole of the country, and this is domestic waste, of course,) within three years by 2003/2004, and a trebling within five years, by 2005/2006, and that includes hazardous waste"[65]

 And yet in Waste Strategy 2000, the Government said

    "The Government has agreed with its European partners to increase the number of waste streams that are considered hazardous or special. Furthermore the withdrawal of harmful chemicals, such as ozone depleting substances, from use will lead to additional hazardous wastes. For these reasons, the Government and the National Assembly do not consider that a target for the reduction in the total amount of hazardous waste arising is appropriate at this time. However, targets for individual key hazardous waste streams may be considered where such targets would be workable and relevant." [66]

82. Moreover, at present, domestic waste is not covered by hazardous waste laws so it is odd that the Minister regards targets for the recycling of municipal waste, which is largely domestic waste, as targets for hazardous waste. Waste Strategy 2000 does include a target "to reduce the amount of industrial and commercial waste landfilled to 85% of 1998 levels" by 2005[67] but as hazardous waste forms only a small proportion of industrial wastes, these targets could be achieved with no change in the amount of hazardous waste produced. We recommend that the Government consider how waste streams occurring at a domestic level should be handled, particularly in the context of the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and the End of Life Vehicles Directive where new streams of waste are emerging.

83. In its written evidence, the Government told us that

    "The [Landfill] Directive brings forward a number of requirements that will add between £2.20 and £40.40 per tonne to the mean cost of waste disposal with costs ranging from £0 to £120 per tonne for specific waste streams. These costs will largely be passed back to the waste producers, reflecting the polluter pays principle, and will provide a further incentive to waste producers to reuse, recycle, recover or otherwise minimise their waste production." [68]

84. While it is hoped that the costs introduced by the Landfill Directive will act as an incentive to industry to reduce the amount of hazardous waste it produces, this still does not qualify as a Government target. The Government must make clear what specific targets, if any, it has set for hazardous waste reduction and what positive steps it has taken to achieve those targets.

85. To the extent that waste producers are legally required to dispose of their waste in an appropriate way, the market is expected to provide facilities to allow them to do so. However we are concerned that, since the current regulatory regime specifies only the minimum standards that waste producers and waste managers must adhere to, some of the objectives of the Waste Framework Directive may be missed. For example, the Waste Framework Directive establishes the principle of proximity of treatment and disposal sites to the source of waste and the Government has expressed its commitment to this principle.[69]

86. While we do not believe there is a need for a formal strategic plan, we recommend that the Government should produce a framework paper that draws together, in a single document, the issues that must be addressed for hazardous waste management. This should outline:

    (a)  the demands on industry;

    (b)  targets for hazardous waste reduction and recovery;

    (c)  how the uncertainties discussed in this report can be resolved; and

    (d)  how the Government is looking ahead to the implementation of forthcoming EC Directives to guard against the delays and confusion that have so far attended the implementation of the Landfill Directive.

87. The Government should encourage the development of a national hazardous waste forum to address the issues outlined in the framework document. The forum must involve waste producers, the waste management industry, the regulators and local government and should take care to have regard for the public's view of waste management.

88. We are confident that the necessary information and the enthusiastic support of the regulator, the waste management industry and hazardous waste producers are all in place. For example, the Chemical Industries Association has already proposed an Industrial Waste Forum to address some of these issues.[70] The Performance and Innovation Unit report may also be helpful to the Government in drafting the framework document. What is clear is that the Government and industry must form a partnership for the management of hazardous waste to ensure that, in 2004 and beyond, we have an adequate and environmentally appropriate hazardous waste management infrastructure.

34   Memorandum submitted by DEFRA, Ev 62, paras 17-18. Back

35   Evidence taken on 10 June 2002 Ev 6, Q14. Back

36   Evidence taken on 2 July 2002, Ev 92, Q354. Back

37   Evidence taken on 10 June 2002, Ev 6, Q11 and evidence taken on 17 June 2002, Ev 34, Q170. Back

38   Evidence taken on 17 June 2002, Ev 36, Q193. Back

39   Evidence taken on July 2 2002, Ev 100, Q389. Back

40   Evidence taken on 2 July 2002, Ev 93, Q356. Back

41   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 82, Q329. Back

42   Supplementary memorandum from the Environment Agency, Ev 46, para 2.2.3. Back

43   DETR 2000, Waste Strategy 2000, The Stationary Office, Part 2, p 95, para 6.23. Back

44   The Need for a UK Strategy on Hazardous Waste, a joint briefing paper by Cleanaway and Shanks for ministerial meeting on 22 April 2002. Back

45   Evidence taken on 2 July 2002, Ev 97-98, QQ378-381. Back

46   Evidence taken on 2 July 2002, Ev 97, Q378. Back

47   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 81, Q325. Back

48   Evidence taken on 2 July 2002, Ev 112, Q398. Back

49   Evidence taken on 2 July 2002, Ev 113, Q399. Back

50   Memoranda submitted by the British Cement Association, Ev 103, and Lafarge Cement, Ev 143-144. Back

51   Evidence taken on 2 July 2002, Ev 112, Q398. Back

52   Evidence taken on 2 July 2002, Ev 112, Q398. Back

53   Evidence taken on 10 June 2002, Ev 19, Q95. Back

54   Memorandum submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ev 64, para 28. Back

55   Memorandum submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ev 61, para 7. Back

56   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 78-79, QQ305-312. Back

57   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 79, Q306. Back

58   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 79, Q311. Back

59   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 91, Q327. Back

60   Memoranda submitted by Onyx Environmental Group plc Ev 128-130, Cleanaway Technical Waste Ev 131-134, Biffa Waste Services Ev 148, the Environmental Services Association Ev 87, and Shanks Group plc Ev 12. Back

61   Memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency E 23, para 1. Back

62   Evidence taken on 17 June 2002, Ev 32, Q150. Back

63   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 82, 83, QQ330, 332. Back

64   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 77, QQ291-93. Back

65   Evidence taken on 1 July 2002, Ev 77, Q294. Back

66   DETR 2000, Waste Strategy 2000, The Stationary Office, Part 1, p 23 para 2.46 Back

67   DETR 2000, Waste Strategy 2000, The Stationary Office, Summary, p 7. Back

68   Memorandum submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ev 65, para 42. Back

69   Memorandum submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ev 71, para 104. Back

70   Evidence taken on 10 June 2002, Ev 5, Q5. Back

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