Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report


Monitoring Member States' progress towards the targets

xxix  We consider that progress towards the biodegradable waste reduction targets should be measured against national statistics of waste arisings and disposals: 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. (101)

Insurance for landfill operators' contingent liabilities

xxx  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. This is, however, an example of lack of sustainability. (106)

Closure of non-conforming sites

xxxi  We agree with the European Parliament that the provisions of Article 14 need strengthening by requiring that any sites not granted a permit under the Waste Framework Directive should be closed down. (107)

Reporting and Monitoring

xxxii  We endorse the need for closer involvement of the European Parliament in the reporting and monitoring process: this is in line with the recommendations of our Report Community Environmental Law: Making it Work. 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. (109)


xxxiii  We wish to reiterate the comments we made on "comitology" in the Community Environmental Law Report and recommend that the proceedings of the Article 16 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. (110)

The waste management hierarchy and Best Practicable Environmental Option

xxxiv  Although the Commission has argued that because the waste hierarchy was political in origin it cannot, in effect, be questioned, we find this difficult to accept. The hierarchy is a guiding framework, not a straitjacket. Landfill has an inevitable, key role in waste disposal strategies: it should not by implication be stigmatised by its position at the bottom of the hierarchy. (112)

xxxv  As a general principle, we do not support the choosing of options which are "higher" in the hierarchy than landfill if their environmental impact is less favourable. Equally, if the environmental impacts are equivalent, we would not support an option which is economically less favourable than landfill, after such factors as transport, distance and market demand have been taken into account. In either case this could be an argument against recycling schemes which intuitively might seem more attractive than landfill. (113)

xxxvi  We agree with the arguments in the previous Government's White Paper, Making Waste Work, that universal adherence to the hierarchy in all circumstances may not therefore accord with the principle of Best Practicable Environmental Option, but it should be recognised that BPEO has yet to be rigorously defined in the context of waste management. (114)


xxxvii  In our view, the Directive does not explicitly advance the cause of sustainability. Useful though the "hierarchy" may be as a concept, it is perhaps better to see it less as a chain (or ladder) and more as a matrix of opportunities and options, together forming an integrated strategy in which BPEO will guide policies in specific circumstances-for example, reflecting the widely differing conditions of scattered rural communities and large conurbations. This has been well put by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency: "At its very simplest, sustainable development can be construed as attempting to move away from a linear-based system of resource utilisation-process-waste generation to a more closed-loop approach maximising the efficient use of resources and minimising waste". We should like to see this matrix approach better reflected in the Directive or at least in its national transposition. (115)

Previous conclusions of the Committee

xxxviii  It is perhaps not surprising that our view on the waste management hierarchy does not significantly differ from that expressed in our 1993 Report on Packaging and Packaging Waste. (116)

Compliance costs

xxxix  The Government is right to be concerned about the magnitude of the range of possible costs in relation to the proposals of Article 5. We therefore reiterate the point which we have made earlier (xxvi) about the need for a more realistic timetable, particularly bearing in mind the UK industry's considerable investment in efficient landfill facilities which still have many years of economic life left.

The landfill tax

xl  The landfill tax is a highly appropriate form of economic instrument to underpin the process of reducing dependency on landfill. We therefore support the European Parliament's proposal for a new Article which would require the Commission to bring forward proposals for the use of economic instruments by the Community, or (failing that) to encourage Member States to adopt measures themselves to promote the objectives of the Landfill Directive. (126)

Economics of recycling and BPEO

xli  Economic incentives or simple regulation are needed to get recycling markets going: in the UK especially more commitment and effort for recycling is required through the use of regulation, eg by requiring newsprint to contain a minimum percentage of recycled material. (132)

xlii  The logistics of recycling are critical to its viability: for instance, it is inefficient for separation of paper and cardboard to be done at transfer stations and recycling facilities-it should be done at the point of collection. (132)

xliii  Recycling can make demands upon the environment, for instance in the form of transport costs, energy consumption, air pollution and noise: it is therefore not necessarily the BPEO in sparsely populated areas. (132)

xliv  Rigorous life-cycle analysis is the key to finding the BPEO for dealing with particular waste streams, including minimisation or recycling. (132)

Recycling as a major policy objective

xlv  Although adherence to the waste management hierarchy needs to be checked case by case against the principle of BPEO, we fully support the importance which the Commission attaches to recycling as a component of sustainable waste management. We believe the United Kingdom Government needs to be more positive with initiatives in this area of environmental policy. We welcome the new guidance to local authorities from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions as a useful first step. (133)

xlvi  We think it would be useful if the Government, when responding to this Report, were to give an account of progress on matters which were the subject of recommendations in our 1993 Report on Packaging and to set out its views on the wider policy issues raised in the Report, most of which we feel remain valid. (134)


xlvii  We agree in principle with the new recital on composting proposed by the European Parliament. We consider that where conditions for collection and processing are appropriate, municipal composting operations should be encouraged. We look forward to the Commission's proposals for encouraging composting in the Community. (138)

xlviii  Although the market for compost derived from municipal waste may be limited, and needs to be demand-led to be successful, its potential should be compared with the large established market for peat-the commercial exploitation of which causes undisputed environmental damage to certain areas of the British Isles of high nature conservation value. To all intents and purposes peat is a non-renewable resource. We believe that better quality control, in combination with public support for the green agenda, will help to overcome current consumer resistance. We welcome the fact that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has recently issued technical guidance on specifications for municipal compost. (139)

Incineration and energy recovery

xlix  Whilst recognising the pressures of public opinion which make it so difficult for incineration plants to obtain planning permission, we recommend that, as a general principle, anything that can safely be burnt should be, and that wherever possible it should be combined with energy production. Only the difficult residues from incineration should go to landfill: for relatively harmless residues, such as bottom ashes from incinerators, uses should be found, eg as road surface material. (144)

l  Incineration must be seen as a long­term option, not a quick and cheap one: it would be unfortunate if implementation of the Directive created pressure for investment in small local incinerators to inferior specifications and levels of performance. We would therefore share the Government's concern if there were a real risk of a "dash to incineration". The costs of collection and transport and economies of scale would suggest that incineration is best suited to larger centres of population, leaving landfill as a better option in rural communities. State of the art performance depends on substantial capital investment, and it is essential to incinerators' viability that they have a steady and minimum assured throughput, and a guaranteed operational lifetime. (145)

li  All incineration of waste should be carried out using best available technology, the licensing authorities having been satisfied that the processes involved pose no threats to health or the environment. Like any system of waste management-but perhaps particularly so, because of the need to provide assurance to the public-incinerators require constant and attentive monitoring and maintenance to ensure that a wide variety of waste is subjected to the correct temperatures and incineration times necessary for its safe destruction. (146)

The scientific basis for policy

lii  We found the DETR and the Environment Agency less than convincing in their responses to our questions about the scientific basis of the waste hierarchy. While we accept the constraints within which the UK Presidency is working, we find it unsatisfactory that political expediency in this instance weighs more heavily than the wealth of practical experience of landfill in the UK, even allowing for a less than perfect scientific understanding of the processes within landfill sites. We have frequently expressed concern in past Reports about the quality of the science on which the European Community bases its environmental policy. (147)

In conclusion

liii  Landfill will continue to play an essential part in the portfolio of waste disposal practices which-in the right combination and developed over the right timescale-must feature in sustainable waste management policy. But it must be accepted that in the relatively small islands which make up the United Kingdom, both the population pressures in the centres of economic activity and the need to protect an irreplaceable natural heritage present a powerful challenge to landfill in the long run. Both landfill and land-raising are land­hungry: sites which are acceptable to their neighbours are increasingly difficult to find. There may be no immediate threat to the supply of traditional holes in the ground; and where they rest on substantial clay deposits they will continue to be the BPEO for a substantial proportion of total waste disposals. But it should be recognised that their continued availability depends, in part, on unsustainable practices in the construction industry. The construction industry cannot take it for granted that raw materials can be quarried and extracted from the environment on demand without regard to the alternative of using recycled construction wastes as aggregate and hardcore. (148)

liv  Waste reduction is not just an option: it is an imperative. We need to create, through education and example, a new social spirit in which Government, industry and citizens positively want to see waste reduced at all stages. In encouraging the Government to be more active in promoting waste prevention and recycling and in creating the right market conditions for them, we recognise that decisions sometimes have to be made for reasons other than those of economics: there can be other perceived benefits in the form of public education, enhanced amenity, employment opportunities and so on. (148)

lv  We commend these thoughts to the Government and look forward to seeing some reflection of them in the national waste management strategy. (150)


  152.    The Committee considers that the proposed Directive on Landfill of Waste raises important questions to which the attention of the House should be drawn, and makes this Report to the House for debate.

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