Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report



  92.    Article 5(1) contains what is by general consent the most significant feature of the draft Directive-the set of targets for phased reductions, by specified dates, of the amount of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill.

The reduction targets

  93.    It was not clear to us why the Commission had chosen 25 per cent as the level to which biodegradable waste going to landfill should eventually be reduced. If methane recovery is to be optimised, a figure nearer to the 35 per cent currently under consideration in the Council negotiations would be preferable: otherwise there is a risk that methane levels will fall below the level at which efficient collection is feasible, and that methane may simply have to be flared or left to discharge into the atmosphere.

  94.    The following table compares the Commission's proposals in Article 5 with those likely to form part of the Council's Common Position (on the basis of the details given in the Council press release after the 16 December meeting-see paragraph 28):

Commission's proposal Likely Common Position
Reduce biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill

Stage 1
to 75 per cent of 1993 levels by 2002 as far as possible[47]

Stage 2
to 50 per cent of 1993 levels by 2005 (i.e. within 3 years of the previous stage)

Stage 3
to 25 per cent of 1993 levels by 2010 (5 years)

to 75 per cent of 1995 levels by 2006[48]

to 50 per cent of 1995 levels by 2009 (i.e. within 3 years of the previous stage, as in the Commission's proposal)

to 35 per cent of 1995 levels by 2016 (7 years)
Derogation   - Member States landfilling more than 80 per cent of municipal waste in 1995 may take up to 2020 to reach the final target[49]

  95.    The biodegradable waste reduction targets have something in common with the target set out in Making Waste Work but are expressed more precisely. The latter is expressed in terms of "controlled waste" (see paragraph 31), including demolition and construction waste but excluding sewage sludge and dredgings, and is to reduce the proportion of controlled waste going to landfill by 10 per cent (ie from 70 to 60 per cent) over the period 1995-2000. It would appear that little progress has been made to date towards the target, which the DETR has described as "aspirational" rather than scientifically based.[
50] (We refer to the recycling targets in paragraph 128 below.)

  96.    Although the supporting scientific evidence lacks certainty, the principle of reducing biodegradable materials going to landfill is one which we support. The reduction targets intentionally serve to discourage biodegradable waste production in the first place and are therefore in accordance with the principles of sustainable development. We therefore consider it is entirely appropriate for the Directive to set Community targets, which when transposed will become statutory and not merely aspirational.

  97.    It is important that Member States have sufficient flexibility to determine-locally, regionally and nationally-the timing and means by which they achieve the agreed targets in Article 5, and that there is recognition of the fact that some States are far more reliant on landfill than others. It is also important that the timetable under Article 5 does not have a distorting effect on investment decisions or lead to the hasty choice of less environmentally friendly waste disposal options. We do not propose to make specific suggestions as to how the targets and timescales in Article 5 might be modified, but we do in principle support some easing of the timetable so long as the long­term goals of the Directive are not compromised. As with any targets, the choice is ultimately more political than scientific. We have no reason, however, for wishing to see substantial modification of the Commission's proposal (endorsed by the European Parliament) that the eventual level of biodegradable waste going to landfill should be of the order of 25 per cent of the 1993 level, although we feel the figure needs to be justified in terms of ensuring optimum methane recovery from landfills which continue to receive biodegradable waste.

  98.    Given the broad definition of "municipal waste" in Article 2, it is not clear what interpretation is to be given to the term "biodegradable municipal waste" in Article 5 as opposed to simply "biodegradable waste". On the Commission's terms, all biodegradable waste in landfill gives rise to the same issues. It cannot be assumed that the present 10 per cent of sewage sludge which goes to landfill in the UK can necessarily be held at such a low level. We consider it is important to remove any doubt that sewage sludge is included in the categories of waste to which Article 5 would apply: this would not affect the proposal under Article 3 to exclude from the scope of the Directive the spreading of sludge on land as fertiliser or soil improver. It would be important to ensure that any redefinition of "liquid waste" in Article 2 did not have the effect of excluding sludge from landfill under Article 5 (see paragraph 25).

  99.    Under Article 5 Member States have to draw up national strategies for implementation of the reduction targets: we have had no satisfactory explanation as to how Member States will be judged as having achieved the Directive's biodegradable waste reduction targets. We do not know whether every operation will be subject to a reduction, or whether the targets may be achieved on the basis of a national average; nor, if the latter, do we know how the overall strategy will be coordinated, or by whom. The Directive is also silent on what is to happen to biodegradable waste which cannot be avoided or recycled.

  100.    We recommend that Article 5 should require Member States to demonstrate a complementary relationship between these strategies and plans to encourage waste minimisation, recycling, materials recovery, energy production from landfill gas and composting, including the implementation of relevant Community measures such as the Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC). Industry, too, will need to draw up its own response to the requirements of Article 5. We look forward to seeing these measures reflected in the National Waste Management Strategy which the Government is preparing to meet the requirements of the Waste Framework Directive and the 1995 Environment Act.

  101.    We consider that progress towards the targets should be measured against national statistics of waste generation and disposal: this would be consistent with the United Kingdom's commitments to national targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, in the interests of subsidiarity and pursuit of the Best Practicable Environmental Option in particular circumstances Member States should be free to determine the rate at which disposals of biodegradable waste are phased out at individual landfill sites.


  102.    Article 10 states that the minimum price to be charged by landfill operators for the disposal of any type of waste should cover all the costs involved in the setting up and operation of the landfill site, including aftercare and site closure costs and the costs of a financial security to meet the operator's environmental obligations for up to 50 years. The rates fixed are to reflect the true cost for the whole lifetime of a site. As we have earlier noted (paragraph 23 and footnote), this proposal is rather more modest than the notion of "internalising the externalities" which the Commission claims to be one of the objectives of the Directive, and does not require a price to be put on environmental damage (such as methane emissions) or nuisance which can be reflected in the rates charged for disposal to landfill.

  103.    It is evident that there is experience within the chemical industry of treating and storing on site the sorts of hazardous waste materials which would be consigned to hazardous waste only sites under the terms of the Directive. The Chemical Industries Association, however, was not able to offer any insights on the management issues involved, being unaware of any current problems in running the relatively few hazardous waste landfills on chemical sites (p 145). Witnesses from the waste management industry thought that their members would be unwilling to take on the long­term liabilities associated with a monofill disposal régime, and the ESA claimed that the authorities would be unlikely to issue certificates of completion for "entombed" waste (Q 232). We would add that, as with incinerators, NIMBY pressures would make the search for suitable sites very difficult.

  104.    The insurance industry was decidedly unenthusiastic over the prospect of providing environmental impairment cover for this purpose: according to the Association of British Insurers, "we do not believe there is an insurance mechanism which could currently meet the risks of the 50­year aftercare period proposed" (p 142). The indefinite period which in practice would be required for a hazardous waste monofill would in our view only add to the problem (cf paragraph 74). The CBI considered that the prescribed 50­year period was inconsistent with subsidiarity (pp 147, 151).

  105.    The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions pointed out that the Directive would not add to the obligations that were already placed on UK operators by the 1994 Waste Management Licensing Regulations or to the advice issued by the Department of the Environment at the time. Discussions, however, were being held between the Environment Agency, the ESA and the insurance industry. The Directive, by providing legislative certainty, would help the industry develop capacity across Europe as a whole (Q 188). Dr Krämer (no doubt half­seriously) suggested that if the UK insurance industry did not want the business, our operators should look elsewhere in the Community (Q 290).

  106.    The environmental problems caused by inadequately controlled hazardous waste sites were one of the early driving forces behind UK hazardous waste legislation. The insurance industry has had some spectacularly bad experiences with environmental impairment liability cases. Realistically it has to be accepted that beyond a certain point risks become uninsurable and that it will fall to the State ultimately to shoulder the burden. But this is an example of the lack of sustainability to which we have previously referred.


  107.    Article 14 provides that for existing active landfill sites Member States must ensure that they do not continue to operate unless, within 3 years after the Directive comes into force, the competent authorities approve a "conditioning plan" submitted by the operator and to be implemented within 5 years (2 years in the case of hazardous waste sites). We agree with the European Parliament that this provision needs strengthening with the requirement that any sites not granted a permit under the Waste Framework Directive should be closed down.


Permits; waste acceptance; control; monitoring and closure of landfill sites

  108.    Articles 7-9 and 11-13 set out a series of detailed procedural matters: these gave rise to relatively little comment in the evidence, not least because they were seen as bringing the rest of the EU into line with the UK and therefore to be welcomed. The European Parliament has, however, proposed that there should be no time limit for operators' liability under Article 13(4): this would be likely to aggravate the problem of insurance described in paragraphs 103-5.

Reporting requirements

  109.    Article 15 provides that Member States should submit to the Commission every three years a report on the implementation of the Directive. The European Parliament has proposed a strengthening of the reporting requirements, in particular by providing for closer involvement of the Parliament in the process. We endorse the need for greater involvement of the Parliament, which is in line with the recommendations of our recent Report Community Environmental Law: Making it Work.[51] We would urge the Commission to make the best possible use of the European Environment Agency's expertise in developing common standards for monitoring of waste management practices in the Member States.

Committee and committee procedures

  110.    Articles 16-17 provide for a Committee of Member States' representatives, chaired by the Commission, whose function would be to advise the Commission on adapting in the light of scientific and technical progress the Annexes to the Directive (which deal with matters such as the location and operation of landfill sites, measures for protecting the environment, waste acceptance criteria and procedures, and monitoring). Although not an issue raised in evidence, we feel we should in this context reiterate the comments we made on "comitology" in the Community Environmental Law Report[52] and recommend that the proceedings of this Committee should be conducted with full transparency, so that its advice can be seen to be based on objective science as opposed to vested interests.

47   Words deleted by the European Parliament. Back

48   Assumes Directive enters into force in 1999: we understand it is proposed that Member States should then have two years to implement before the timetable starts. Back

49   The extra 4 years can be taken at any time during the 3 stages. Back

50   Oral evidence on 20 January 1998 to the House of Commons Environment Sub-Committee: enquiry into Sustainable Waste Management. Back

51   2nd Report, 1997-98, Community Environmental Law: Making it Work, HL Paper 12. Back

52   Op cit, paragraphs 32-35. Back

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