Select Committee on European Communities Report


Memorandum from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  The Government thanks the Select Committee for its thorough and helpful report which addresses important issues concerning the EC Directive on the Landfilling of Waste. This memorandum is the Government's formal response to the Select Committee's Report. The text follows the order of the recommendations made in the report, which are reproduced in bold print throughout the response.

  Shortly after the Select Committee's report was issued on 17 March 1998, a Common Position on the text of the Directive was reached at the European Environment Council on 23 March 1998. This Common Position addresses some of the concerns of the Committee identified in their report, and these changes are highlighted in our response. An Explanatory Memorandum on the Common Position text will be put before the Committee in due course, setting out the changes in more detail.


  i.  The definition of "municipal waste" is important to the interpretation of the key proposal of the Directive—the progressive reduction in biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill. It is sufficiently clear from a reading of the Directive as a whole that the definition is not confined to waste collected by local authorities. However, if doubts remain, it is important that they should be removed, if necessary by some re-wording of Article 2(b), and preferably there should be an alignment of the Directive's definition with the definition of "controlled waste" in UK terminology. (32)

  The Government agrees that there is some uncertainty over the definition to "municipal waste" in the draft Directive, and is considering how best to interpret this term in the UK and its relationship with existing definitions in UK and EC legislation. Information from the Commission on the underlying data on waste arisings which would help clarify its scope is still awaited. It is essential that Member States are only required to apply the reductions in the landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste to those waste streams which have been included in the 1995 (or latest year before 1995) baseline data for the reductions.

  ii.  The definition of biodegradable waste is inadequate: the ability of undergo aerobic or anaerobic decomposition does not in itself make a material biodegradable. In the context of the Directive it is the rate of biodegradation that is more important, rather than simply the ability to biodegrade. This requires clarification before the Directive is formally adopted: we recommend that biodegradable waste should be defined in terms of its ability to degrade completely within the 50 year aftercare period proposed in Article 10 of the Directive, thereby leaving a site in an environmentally benign state. This has an important bearing on our recommendation on the need to optimise methane generation and recovery. (34)

  In the absence of a clearer definition for "biodegradable waste" in the Directive itself, it is for each Member State to consider the meaning of the term when implemented into national law. The Government is taking a proactive stance on this issue, and has commissioned research into the definition of "biodegradable waste" for the purposes of implementing this Directive. This research will take into account the time a substance takes to degrade. The Committee will wish to note that the aftercare period has been reduced to 30 years in the Common Position Text.


  iii.  The Commission's concern about groundwater pollution may well be justified in relation to landfill in parts of continental Europe, but we are satisfied that the high standards of monitoring and regulation developed over the years by the Environment Agency, by its predecessor the National Rivers Authority and by the equivalent bodies in the rest of the United Kingdom, coupled with the important safeguards provided by the planning system, have been effective in minimising the risks to groundwater from landfill. (41)

  The Government endorses the Committee's view that the high standards of monitoring and regulation in the UK have been effective in minimising the risks to groundwater from landfill. The competent regulatory authorities in the UK may be required to review current Government technical guidance on the design and construction, operation and monitoring of landfill sites to take account of the requirements contained in the Directive.

  iv.  No landfill site, however well engineered and lined, can be expected to retain its integrity indefinitely. Ultimately all landfills will leak. In the case of active sites, strict containment, monitoring and leachate control, together with a capacity on the part of the operator to deal with emergencies, should be sufficient to prevent groundwater pollution, and we note that the provisions of Annex III to the Directive would effectively extend to other Member States a regime comparable to that of the UK 1994 Waste Management Licensing Regulations. It is the long-term position that concerns us, and particularly the Directive's proposals for the long term storage of hazardous material in hazardous waste only sites. We note the industry's concern that the required Certificates of Completion might not be forthcoming for such sites, which could mean that operators would retain liability indefinitely. (42)

  The Government put forward technical arguments at the European Council for allowing the practice of controlled co-disposal of waste to continue at landfill sites. However, these arguments were not accepted by the Commission, other Member States or the European Parliament, however. This is partly because of bad experiences with the uncontrolled mixing of wastes which unfortunately has given co-disposal a bad image in the rest of Europe. The Government and the Environment Agency are investigating the technical, licensing and liability implications of the ending of co-disposal and the establishment of landfills which accept only hazardous waste. The Committee will wish to note that the Common Position text now proposes an extra three years for hazardous sites to comply—five years from adoption of the directive as against two years in the original draft. Clarification has also been given that the rules to be developed by the technical committee would make separate provision for "stable, non-reactive hazardous wastes" which may be deposited in non-hazardous landfills not accepting biodegradable waste.


  v.  We are concerned at the lack of useful statistics relating to land which has been contaminated by past landfill activities, although this is an inevitable legacy of unregulated times. We note that the provisions of the Environment Act 1995 for contaminated land registers remain unimplemented. We would, hope that the possibility of implementing those provisions will be given careful consideration in the Government's current review of waste management policy. (45)

  Producing firm statistics relating to land contamination is not an easy process, as in many cases the contamination is not immediately apparent. Ultimately, the full nature and extent of contamination can be determined only after detailed investigation of individual sites.

  Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (inserted by section 57 of the Environment Act 1995) creates a specific regime for the identification and remediation of a defined category of contaminated land—effectively, those sites where contamination is creating significant risks to human health or the environment in the context of the current use of the land. The enforcement system under this regime includes the maintenance by each enforcing authority of a "remediation register" recording details of the sites which have been, or are being, dealt with. In addition, the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) will have a specific duty to produce a national report on the state of contaminated land on a periodic basis. Provision is also made in the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 for corresponding powers for the Northern Ireland District Councils but the periodic report on the state of contaminated land will be prepared by the Environment and Heritage Service of DOE (NI).

  DETR announced on 22 July that the Government intends to bring this regime into force in England and Scotland in July 1999. In Wales, decisions on the implementation of the regime will be made in light of the outcome of a consultation exercise started in September 1998 on the Comprehensive Spending Review. DETR is also co-ordinating the creation of a National Land Use Database in England, which will also help to provide overall statistics on the use and condition of our national land stock.


  vi.  There are sound policy reasons, notwithstanding the scientific uncertainty, for tackling methane first, rather than carbon dioxide, when seeking to reduce the contribution which landfill operations make to global warming. (48)

  vii.  The lack of consistent data on the efficiency of methane capture in landfill and the relative global warming potential of methane and carbon dioxide substantially weakens what has been one of the main arguments of the principal UK witnesses—that the Directive would not achieve reductions in methane emissions in the most effective manner. There is an apparent discrepancy between the Commission's evidence and the assumptions in the Commission's methane reduction strategy. The only possible conclusion is that on the basis of the evidence received so far, the global warming issue remains unresolved: the comparative environmental benefits of engineered methane recovery from landfill as opposed to upstream avoidance of methanogenesis remains a matter of conjecture. It is therefore important that research on this should continue. We note, however, that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, in its 1993 Report on Incineration of Waste, based its conclusion in favour of incineration of municipal waste on the conservative assumption that only 40 per cent of landfill methane would be captured. (54)

  While the comparative benefits of methane recovery versus methane avoidance may remain a matter of conjecture, the research evidence to date and UK industry experience indicate that the suggested higher end of the capture range is realistic. Developments in technology over time and the incentive of tougher regulation by the Environment Agency should assist this.

  viii.  For the purpose of tackling global warming, there is no overriding science-based principle to determine choices objectively between different waste disposal options. Nevertheless, the fundamental aim of sustainability is that it is better to prevent, reduce and recycle waste than to burden the environment with waste in the crude form in which it is generated or discarded by the consumer. We see no contradiction between our recommendations on the desirability of both maximising methane recovery from landfill sites and of using incineration with energy recovery: in both cases it is a question of finding the Best Practicable Environmental Option which best suits the particular circumstances and makes best use of the opportunities offered. (55)

  Climate change is the most serious environmental problem facing the world and the UK is continuing to lead efforts to tackle it. The Government intends to issue a consultation paper soon on policy options for delivering our climate change targets. This will cover the policy options for reducing all greenhouse gas emissions, including methane and will lead to the development, next year, of a balanced and equitable climate change programme covering all sectors of the economy.

  In its recent consultation document Less Waste: More Value[27], the Government reiterated its support for the theoretical waste hierarchy but stressed that it cannot be an absolute guide to the best solution for any particular waste stream in all localities. Other factors must also be taken into account. We would agree that there is no conflict in advocating both landfill with efficient methane recovery and incineration with energy recovery. Both are well developed disposal techniques capable of safely managing a wide range of wastes. BPEO is only one of many factors, such as the proximity principle, which a Local Authority would take into account when reviewing these options. The same policy is promuigated in the Government's A Waste Management Strategy for Northern Ireland issued in June 1998, and the draft National Waste Strategy for Scotland: A Blueprint for Progress 1997-2001, published by SEPA in March 1997.

  We agree that it is important to reduce methane emissions from landfill by maximising landfill gas recovery as Annex 1.4 of the Directive requires. The Government is actively pursuing research into refining the data on the quantity of methane released from UK landfills.


  ix.  The United Kingdom waste management industry and the regulatory authorities have good reason to feel proud of the high standards which have been developed for landfill over the years, much assisted by the town and country planning system—now in place for over half a century. The case they put to us was well argued. When asked for comments, however, on the contrary views held by Friends of the Earth, for instance, and the Commission, we felt they were somewhat less persuasive. Arguments about the merits and demerits of landfill may never be resolved to everybody's satisfaction, but we are in no doubt that substantial continuing use of landfill will remain an essential element of the national waste management strategy for many years to come. (59)

  The Government welcomes the Committee recognition of the high standards developed in landfill management in the UK. We recognise that landfill will remain the BPEO (and indeed in some instances may be the only disposal option) for certain wastes and in certain situations, and will continue to play an important role in waste management in the UK for many years to come. As noted in Less Waste: More Value, and the Scottish and Northern Ireland draft Strategies, however, the Government is committed to reducing reliance on landfill as it is often the least desirable waste treatment option.


  x.  We recognise the view of the waste management industry that some aspects of the draft Directive are over-prescriptive and arguably contrary to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, in the sense that it focuses on the reduction of biodegradable waste going to landfill as a particular means of achieving the broader aims of Article 1. However, in our view the industry's stance has insufficient regard for the reality of policies and attitudes in other Member States or for the mechanics of Qualified Majority Voting. These factors will continue to influence the Environment Councils deliberations and the Common Position which is due to emerge shortly. (65)

  xi.  Although there may be some room for argument on whether the tests set by the Amsterdam Treaty's Protocol have been fully met, we are satisfied that the Commission's proposals are in principle consistent with subsidiarity, if one takes into account the unquestionably transnational nature of the global warming problem, the well established aims of the Community in the environment field, eg as expressed in the Fifth Environmental Action programme, and the justifiable concern about the risks to the environment from continuing large-scale disposal to landfill of untreated biodegradable waste, even in well engineered sites. We would, however, qualify this by saying that the overall timescale for change must be proportional to the costs which the Directive would impose on Member States and that there must be some flexibility for Member States to decide when and how to meet the intermediate targets. (66)

  The Government shares the Committee's concerns about the timescale for meeting the requirements of the Directive. The Government did have some concerns about this aspect of the Directive, and has worked hard during discussions with the Commission and other Member States to secure a realistic compromise on the phased reductions of biodegradable municipal waste. The original proposal was for an amount equivalent to 25 per cent of the 1993 biodegradable municipal waste arisings to be landfilled by 2010. In the Common Position text, this has now been reduced to 35 per cent of the 1995 figures by 2016, with intermediate targets revised accordingly. The deadlines for reductions can be delayed by up to four years for Member States, such as the UK, which in 1995 landfilled more than 80 per cent of their total collected municipal waste. This will allow sufficient time for the development of other sustainable waste management options, such as recycling and composting as well as waste minimisation, to deal with this waste. The Explanatory Memorandum being prepared on the Common position text will include a regulatory impact assessment of compliance with the draft Directive.

  xii.  We think it would be helpful if methane reduction as an aim of the Directive were to be stated explicitly in Article 1. For the UK at any rate it is a more significant policy aim than the harmonising of standards for landfill management, which is of more relevance to some of the continental Member States, where standards may not be so high. (67)

  Article 1 of the Common Position text refers to the prevention or reduction as far as possible of negative effects on the global environment and the greenhouse effect, although methane reduction is not specifically mentioned.


  xiii.  We find the proposal to consign all hazardous wastes to hazardous waste only sites unsatisfactory: many wastes which are hazardous according to the Hazardous Waste Directive's definition are themselves biodegradable (eg dilute phenolic solutions, oil interceptor contents, or inorganic cyanides) in an appropriate environment. Whilst the more reactive materials will decompose in a hazardous waste only site, those which require an active microbial population for their biodegradation are less likely to do so. This is one of the arguments for co-disposal. (70)

  xiv.  We note that some hazardous wastes with no leaching qualities (eg asbestos) pose no environmental threat if entombed and securely protected from subsequent disturbance. We see no reason why such wastes, subject to the careful controls already in place under UK legislation, should not continue to be landfilled with mixed municipal waste, thereby leaving more capacity in hazardous monofill sites for disposal of materials which really need to be disposed in them. (72)

  As set out in response to Recommendation iv above, the UK Government unsuccessfully advocated the continuation of controlled co-disposal. The Government was, however, prepared to accept the ending of co-disposal, provided there were positive moves in other areas of the Directive such as the timetable for the reductions in biodegradable municipal waste. The Common Position text also allows for stable, non-reactive hazardous wastes with leaching behaviour equivalent to that of non-hazardous wastes to be disposed of at non-hazardous sites, but only in cells separate to those containing non-biodegradable waste.


  xv.  We heard no satisfactory evidence as to how the proportion of clinical waste currently landfilled should in future be dealt with, but in our view the right solution for all clinical waste is hygienic incineration. (73)

  The restriction on the landfilling of clinical wastes in the draft Directive applies only to infectious material as defined (property H9 in Annex III) by Directive 91/689/EEC and waste falling within category 14 (Annex I.A) of that Directive. Some clinical wastes may be treated in a number of ways to alter their state so that they are no long clinical waste by definition. These treated wastes will continue to be disposed of to landfill. The Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive aree jointly preparing guidance on the safe disposal of the various categories of clinical wastes. This will include advice on the appropriate disposal options. Some clinical wastes must be incinerated.


  xvi.  We share the industry's concern over the proposals to create a rigid class of hazardous waste monofills, which would provide nothing more than long-term storage for hazardous waste materials, with all that implies for monitoring and future liabilities. In our view it is essential, if the system is to work at all satisfactorily, that wastes consigned to hazardous sites should be pre-treated, eg by vitrification, to minimise their hazardous properties and, once landfilled, should be the subject of rigid systems of monitoring: otherwise we would regard the practice as fundamentally unsustainable. It is true that pre-treatment of all landfilled waste is a requirement under Article 6, but the requirement is broadly drafted and in this instance a more prescriptive approach may be called for. It is not clear to us whether additional treatment capacity is currently available or could be made available in time to meet the Directive's requirements. (74)

  The Government notes the Committee's concerns over the long term storage of hazardous waste in separate landfills. As set out in the response to Recommendation xiv, the Common Position text does allow for stable, non-reactive hazardous wastes with leaching behaviour equivalent to that of non-hazardous wastes to be disposed of at non-hazardous sites.

  A significant proportion of hazardous wastes can be treated by the waste producer using simple methods such as neutralisation of acids and alkalis, dewatering of sludges, splitting of oil emulsions, solidification of sludges, so that the hazard is removed or reduced as far as possible prior to disposal. The reason why this has not happened in the past is partly due to the low cost of co-disposal landfill which acts to prevent investment in in-house treatment processes. Such simple treatments are already offered by the waste industry. The Government is confident that the industry can and will respond positively to the directive by designing and constructing new treatment processes where the need and revenue potential is identified.


  xvii.  Whilst the European Parliament's proposed definition of "liquid waste" has the merit of providing a measurable criterion, we are concerned that the proposed percentage by weight of solids is very high. Many filter cakes, for example, have a percentage solids content of 30-40 per cent by weight and no flow characteristics whatsoever. As drafted, the amendment would (and is evidently intended to) outlaw the landfill disposal of all sewage sludge, on which the UK depends at present for about 10 per cent of the total amount disposed of in England and Wales. We recommend that if landfill is no longer available, sewage sludge with no recoverable value should in future be incinerated in a carefully controlled manner. (756)

  The Government notes the Committee's concerns about the definition of "liquid waste". The definition is to be considered in more detail by an EC committee of officials set up under the Waste Framework Directive 75/442/EEC. The disposal of sludge to landfill will be restricted by the proposed limits on liquid waste contained in the draft Directive on Landfill although to what extent is not yet clear. Water companies will need to take into account the implications of the proposed definition of liquid waste in developing their sewage sludge management strategies which should ensure that sewage sludge is reused wherever appropriate rather than disposed of to landfill. Some sections of the industry have already made the decision to incinerate sewage sludge and it is expected that eventually over 50 per cent of the sludge arisings in England and Wales will be disposed of by this route.

  xviii.  The proposed complete ban on liquid wastes going to landfill would create an absurd situation for the waste management industry and would undermine the approach which we recommend for dealing with active and closed landfill sites during the implementation period for the measures in Article 5. We recommend that the Directive should expressly permit the recirculation of leachate within landfill sites for the purposes of accelerating biodegradation and optimising methane recovery. (78)

  The Government is similarly concerned that the technology and investment into the treatment of biodegradable waste in landfills is not undermined. This is essential to optimise methane recovery and speed up stabilisation. Although the ban will prohibit waste water being introduced to accelerate the degradation process, our intitial view is that the recirculation of leachate produced on the site or indeed the use of ordinary water may still be allowed.


  xix.  We are not convinced that there is a case for continuing with the practice of using old tyres as drainage blankets for landfills. We recommend that tyres should, as far as possible, be shredded and found uses such as being mixed with tarmac for playground surfacing; otherwise incineration may have to be the answer. (79)

  The Government supports the general principle of recovery being preferable to disposal for wastes, including waste tyres. The Industry/Government Scrap Tyre Working Group has been asked, as part of the producer responsibility initiative, to examine the options for increasing recovery of old tyres from the present level of around 75 per cent to that which will be needed to comply with the expected ban on landfilling. Recovery routes will include retreading, to give old tyres a second life, recycling into secondary raw materials for use in safety playgrounds and rubber products, incineration with energy recovery, and pyrolysis (incineration in the absence of air). The Working Group has been invited to report by the end of the year. Members of the Select Committee will wish to be aware that the Common Position now specifically allows for tyres to be used as engineering material in landfill, an accepted reuse practice in the UK and other Members States.


  xx.  With the amendments proposed by the European Parliament and indicated to us by the Commission, we are satisfied that the definition of "treatment" in Article 2 is adequate. We note that the definition would already cover incineration, which is a form of pre-treatment; we also note that the purpose of the Commission's intentionally broad definition is to encourage the choice of options higher up the waste management hierarchy. (82)

  The Government shares the Commission's view on the definition of "treatment". We also welcome the further clarification in Article 6 of the Common Position text that the need for pre-treatment does not apply to inert waste where it is not technically feasible, or to any waste where this does not contribute to the objectives of the directive by reducing the quantity or hazardous nature of the waste being landfilled. The definition of "treatment" remains broad but includes measures such as sorting which make sound practical sense.


  xxi.  Whilst the position on co-disposal previously reached, and likely to be reached again, by the Council of Ministers could be explained in terms of political expediency rather than rational argument, it is legitimate to apply the precautionary principle here. All landfill sites, including those designed to be "containment" sites, have the potential to fail and cause damage to the environment. They raise problems with long-term monitoring and the question of ultimate responsibility. (88)

  xxii.  Nevertheless we believe that to replace co-disposal of industrial and biodegradable wastes with a rigid system of segregation and mono-disposal of hazardous industrial wastes is to fail to recognise that judicious and carefully regulated mixing of certain low-hazard industrial wastes (eg organics) with biodegradable municipal waste (which can itself contain a range of hazardous materials) is unlikely to produce an end result materially different from that of a purely municipal landfill. (89)

  The Government notes the Committee's concerns. Our responses to Recommendations iv, xiv and xvi refer to this issue.


  xxiii.  We recognise that the management and aftercare of sites currently operated on flushing bioreactor principles will have to be approached with care. On the basis of the available evidence, we are doubtful whether the processes within a flushing bioreactor are capable of precise specification or their effects measurable with any certainty. The principle, however, of recirculation of leachate and otherwise maintaining optimum conditions for progressive decomposition, coupled with collection and use of landfill gas, within existing mixed waste sites should, in our view, be supported. We note that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 1996 recommended that the Department of the Environment and the waste disposal industry should consider how the flushing bioreactor approach could be made financially attractive both then and after co-disposal of industrial wastes ceased. This recommendation, in our view, remains valid for the management of existing co-disposal sites, even if no new ones are constructed during the implementation period for Article 5 of the Directive, and should continue to be the subject of research. (90)

  The Government recognises that there are considerable uncertainties attached to the concept of the flushing bioreactor. The waste management industry is divided on the feasibility of the process both on technical and economic grounds. The Government will look to the results of further development work already in hand to determine the role of the bioreactor in future landfill practice.


  xxiv.  We recommend that one of the principal management aims of all sites which currently take (or have until recently taken) significant quantitities of industrial and biodegradable waste should be to optimise methane recovery for as long as the process remains viable. Such a measure would be consistent with Commission's communication on methane reduction and would help to reduce the timescale within which such sites pose a threat to the environment. (91)

  The Government is committed to reducing emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The capture of methane gas from landfill sites has a role to play in meeting this commitment, and we agree that sites should optimise methane recovery for as long as the process remains viable. The Common Position text contains a requirement in Annex 1 for appropriate measures to be taken to control the accumulation and migration of landfill gas, and to collect, treat and use landfill gas from all landfills receiving biodegradable waste. If the gas cannot be used to produce energy, it must be flared.


  xxv.  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. (96)

  xxvi.  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 long-term 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. (97)

  The Government's original concerns and acceptance of the new Common Position timetable are outlined above in response xi. The UK is content that such a timetable provides the necessary flexibility to allow the development of other sustainable waste management options such as recycling and composting of this waste, as well as waste minimisation initiatives. A more restrictive timetable would not allow adequate time to develop and implement these alternatives, and force us to rely solely on increased incineration capacity.

  xxvii.  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. (98)

  The Government notes the Committee's concerns abut the scope of Article 5 and the definition of "liquid waste" in relation to sewage sludge. The Committee will wish to note that the original definition of "liquid waste" has been retained in the Common Position text, however, and the UK will continue to oppose any redefinition that would have the effect that the Committee fears.


  xxviii.  We recommend that Article 5 should require Member States to demonstrate a complementary relationship between their 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. 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 requierements of the Waste Framework Directive and the 1995 Environment Act. (100)

  The Government agrees with the Committee that the strategy to meet the reductions in Article 5 should be closely aligned with the national strategies to encourage waste minimisation, recycling, materials recovery, and energy recovery. Member States will be required under Article 5 of the draft directive to set up a national strategy for the implementation of the reductions in biodegradable municipal waste within two years of the directive coming into force, and to notify the Commission of this strategy. As stated in the consultation paper Less Waste: More Value, the Government recognises that there is a need for a substantial increase in recycling and recovery, and is considering how waste minimisation can be encouraged. We are looking at ways to translate these long-term ambitions into medium-term targets and the industry will have a vital role to play in implementation. Actions include using the landfill tax to encourage sustainable waste management, considering how to improve the packaging regulations, looking at how to improve markets for recycled products, helping to increase composting, working with industry on producers responsibility initiatives, publishing guidance on preparing recycling plans, encouraging sharing of best practice by local authorities, and accepting the recommendations of the Review of Local Authority Role in Recycling.


  xxix.  We consider that progress towads 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 emmissions. Nevertheless, in the interests of subsidiarity and pursuit of the Best Practicable Environmental Option in particular circmustances Member States should be free to determine the rate at which disposals of biodegradable waste are phased out at individual landfill sites. (101)

  The Government considers that, in the absence of Commission data on waste arisings and disposals, the targets contained in Article 5 will have to be based on national statistics.The Government agrees that Member States should be free to determine the rate at which biodegradable municipal waste is phased out at individual landfill sites, and indeed the draft directive does not constrain this.


  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)

  The UK Government strongly believes that prices charged should accurately reflect all costs—financial and environmental—caused by waste disposal. This is a vast element in encouraging waste producers to consider the most sustainable methods of waste management. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 landfill operators are already required to make financial provision for meeting the obligations of their licenses. The directive should also assist in providing the legislative certainty (for example, in determining permitting arrangements for sites) that the insurance industry requires in developing the necessary market capacity.

  The Environmental Services Association is currently in discussion with the Environment Agency about how best to ensure compliance with the Environmental Protection Act 1990. In Waste Management Paper 4, the Government identified as suitable some form of joint protective mechanism such as a mutual fund or mutually funded operating company.


  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)

  The UK is firmly of the opinion that all landfill sites should be controlled in compliance with the Framework Directive on waste. Our domestic law reflects this—it is a criminal offence to deposit, recover or dispose of controlled waste without a license unless exempt, contrary to the conditions of a license, or in a manner likely to cause pollution to the environment of harm to human health. The Common Position text now permits all existing sites a maximum of eight years to comply with the Directive or be closed down "as soon as possible".


  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 Members States. (109)

  The Government notes the Committee's comments on the reporting and monitoring of waste management practices. We consider, however, that it is the role of the competent authorities to monitor and assess the waste management practices within an individual Member State, and for individual Member States to report on these practices to the Community.


  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 Government shares the Committee's support for transparency and objective advice within the committee process, and notes its comments.


  xxiv.  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 no 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)

  The Government has said in paragraph 2.2 of Less Waste: More Value that "it supports the theoretical hierarchy; but considers that it cannot be an absolute guide to the best solution for any particular waste stream in all localities. Other considerations such as the proximity principle must also be taken into account. There will be cases where the Best Practicable Environmental Option for a particular type of waste, or a particular area, is lower down the hierarchy. Properly used, the hierarchy should challenge waster producers to look for ways of decreasing the environmental impact of their waste, or maximising the benefit that can be gained from the resources it represents". We will of course take the Committee's views into account when formulating the strategy.


  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 close-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)

  As set out in paragraph 2.2 of Less Waste: More Value, the Government agrees that too much emphasis on the waste hierarchy as a formal set of rules can hamper consideration of the relative environmental benefits in individual cases, and prevent improvements in waste management.


  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)

  The Government's position set out in Less Waste: More Value, agrees with the Committee's 1993 view on the theoretical waste hierarchy and Lord Strathclyde's response on behalf of the previous administration in the ensuing debate: that is support for what is a general, but by no means absolute, guide to the optimal disposal solution for particular waste stream in any given locality but recognition of the vital importance of its flexible application.


  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.

  Please refer to the response to Recommendation xxvi above.


  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)

  The principle of subsidiarity strongly suggests that, in complying with the targets in the directive, the choice of instruments, fiscal or otherwise, should be left to member states. In his March budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the standard rate of landfill tax would increase to £10 per tonne from April 1999, while the lower rate for inert waste would remain frozen for the time being. The purpose of giving such notice was to allow waste producers, the waste management industry, and local authorities the opportunity to plan ahead. The Government also said it will consider whether further increases are necessary in light of the Article 5 targets, and the review of the waste strategy. As part of its work on the new waste strategy, the Government will consider what is the appropriate basis for setting the long-term level for the tax.


  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)

  As stated in paragraph 3.3.3 of Less Waste: More Value, while recycling has the potential to make financial sense for local authorities over the medium term, because of the revenue generated through the sale of recyclate, there can be uncertainty about market development, or short-term cash constraints, which hold local authorities back. The Government is considering whether a range of initiatives is needed to help get recycling markets going. These are set out in paragraph 3.3.3 of the consultation document, and include whether Government and other high-profile organisations should take more of a lead in specifying high recycled content and environmental standards. "The Development Markets for Recyclable Materials: a Strategy for Scotland" is a joint project aiming to establish how markets for recyclable materials can be created and developed in Scotland. This is steered by a group consisting of SEPA, the Scottish Office, COSLA, Local Enterprise Co, Waste Industry and RAGS.

  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)

  As stated in paragraph 3.3.3 of Less Waste: More Value, source segregation is a common feature of the waste systems of countries with higher recycling rates; but those recycling rates have sometimes been achieved at very high cost, with increased transport use, and with insufficient development of end markets for the recycled materials. However, the Government believes that a concerted effort is needed to overcome these problems, and that a system based on source separation of waste and kerbside collection could provide substantial environmental advantages.

  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)

  The Government believes recycling is critical to the task of making our waste management more environmentally acceptable and is committed to a substantial increase in the role it plays in this country. It also recognises, however, that even recycling can have negative as well as positive environmental impacts. As stated in paragraph 2.2 of Less Waste: More Value, and in A Waste Management Strategy for Northern Ireland, we consider that there will be cases where the BPEO for a particular type of waste or a particular area will be lower down the waste hierarchy.

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

  The Government notes the Committee's view, and will be considering with the competent authorities the results of the Environment Agency's research into Life Cycle Analysis in the context of the national waste strategy.


  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)

  In paragraph 3.3.3 of Less Waste: More Value, the Governmet states its belief that recycling is critical to the task of making waste management more environmentally acceptable and is committed to a substantial increase in the role it plays in this country. DETR guidance issued to local authorities on preparing and revising recycling strategies and plans was one initiative and we are keen to follow up others referred to in response xli above. Further work is also being taken forward on how to improve the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, particularly the scope for using it to encourage recycling.

  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)

  Directive 94/62 on packaging and packaging waste came into force in 1994. It has been implemented in Great Britain by means of (a) the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 and (b) the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 1998.

  (a) The Producer Responsibility Regulations are based on a share out of responsibility between the four main sectors in the packaging chain, from raw materials manufacturers to sellers, according to a percentage split agreed at a meeting of representatives of industry on 15 December 1995.

  These Regulations obligate all businesses with a turnover of more than £5 million (to come down to £1 million with effect from 1 January 2000) and who handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging to recover and recycle amounts of packaging waste annually in proportion to the amount of packaging that they handle.The UK expects to achieve the Directive targets of at least 50 per cent packaging waste recovery, at least half of which is to be achieved through recycling, in 2001.

  The current system requires obligated businesses to achieve a material-specific recycling target for each material type and permits them to undertake the remaining tonnage recovery obligation in any material.This reflects the fact that high recycling levels for some materials will not necessarily be the BPEO for those materials.

  The Regulations provide a cost incentive to minimise packaging, since the smaller the tonnage of packaging handled, the lower the producer's tonnage recovery and recycling obligation. The Regulations also encourage reuse of packaging by allowing the tonnage of any packaging being reused to be excluded from the calculation of the tonnage obligation.

  Businesses are required to register with, and provide data to, the Environment Agency or SEPA and submit certificates of compliance annually to the relevant Agency. Supporting evidence of compliance must be retained for four years and made available on request for inspection by the relevant Agency.

  The data provided by obligated businesses enables the Government to estimate the total amount of packaging flowing into the waste stream annually, and to determine whether the UK is on course to meet the Directive targets.

  Businesses can discharge their packaging waste recovery and recycling obligations themselves or by joining a compliance scheme, which will take on the discharge of obligations on those businesses' behalf. Compliance schemes are also required to register with the Environment Agency or SEPA and are subject to competition scrutiny by the Director General of Fair Trading. Schemes are required to present an operational plan and to have policies on consumer information and awareness.

  The main way of demonstrating compliance is the Packaging Waste Recovery Note (PRN). PRNs are issued only by reprocessors who have joined a voluntary accreditation scheme, and they certify the amount and type of packaging waste recovered. The PRN system has been the subject of review recently (see below) but currently, they are being sold at a range of prices which may reflect a number of factors including the cost of reprocessing. It is the intention that PRN revenue should contribute to the development of reprocessing capacity and to the pump priming of the collection and sorting infrastructure, and to the development of markets for recyclate.

  The Regulations came into force in March 1997 and were reviewed in the first half of this year by the Advisory Committee on Packaging whose report was made public at the end of June. A copy is attached. A consultation document discussing options and proposals for amending the Regulations was published on 30 July and is available on the Departmental Website [].

  The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 provides enabling powers which the Government intends to use to make corresponding regulations for Northern Ireland on packaging waste. Consultation papers were issues in June and September 1998 on draft regulations and on the review by the Advisory Committee on Packaging.

  (b)  The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 1998 were introduced in May this year by the DTI and transpose into UK law the essential requirements set down in the Directive for packaging placed on the market in the EU. They also transpose the heavy metals limits stipulated in the Directive. These regulations are aimed at reducing the end of life impact of packaging and include the requirement that packaging must be the minimum necessary subject to safety and hygiene considerations.


  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)

  The Committee will wish to note that the proposed recital on composting has not been included in the Common Position text. As set out in paragraph 3.3.4 of Less Waste More Value, the Government recognise that it has been more difficult to develop larger-scale commercial composting schemes. The main barriers to large-scale composting are the absence of recognised standards, the variability of compostable materials, and therefore of the compost produced, and the difficulty in finding markets for the compost. We set up a small working group to look at the problem of marketing waste-derived compost to all sectors, including agriculture and land restoration, and to develop proposals to overcome these obstacles. Its report was completed in July 1998 and was the subject of a consultation exercise ending on 25 September.

  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)

  The Government recognises this problem and, in paragraph 3.3.4 of Less Waste: More Value, asked for views on how potential purchasers can be encouraged to specify waste-derived compost. We will be considering the results of this consultation, together with the recommendations of the working group referred to in response to xlvii above, in the coming months.


  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 long-term 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)

  lii.  All incineration of waste should be carried out using the 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)

  As set out in paragraph 3.3.5 of Less Waste: More Value, the Government considers that recovery of energy in the form of electricity or heat is one way in which waste can be put to beneficial use, and Combined Heat and Power schemes may provide opportunities to maximise energy recovery. The benefits can be enhanced when it is part of an integrated approach to waste management. Waste now fuels 132 megawatts of power generation, enough for quarter of a million homes, and thereby deriving value from almost two million tonnes of waste per annum. This is a much lower level than in most European countries, particulary those which have made a conscious effort to improve their waste management over the last 20 years. Energy recovery plants can, however, cause local concern. Much of that concern is based on the performance of the old generation of waste incinerators, phased out when new European standards on emissions were introduced. The setting and enforcing of high environmental protection standards for incineration is a priority for the Government. Public concern about incinerators is best met through, on the one hand, clear application of those high standards by the UK environment protection agencies; and on the other hand, full public involvement in the planning and design of projects. The consultation paper invited views on this approach, and we will be considering responses when drawing up the waste strategy for England and Wales over the next year.


  liii.  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)

  As stated in paragraph 2.2 of Less Waste: More Value, and in A Waste Management Strategy for Northern Ireland, the Government supports the theoretical hierarchy but considers that it cannot be an absolute guide to the best solution for any particular waste stream in all localities. The Environment Agency is conducting detailed work into life cycle assessment which will contribute to our scientific understanding of the environmental impacts of waste management practices.


  liv.  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 land-hungry: 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 hard-core. (148)

  The potential for greater use of construction and demolition waste as aggregates will be taken into account in the review of Minerals Planning Guidance note 6 which will commence shortly in England. A similar review will take place in due course in Scotland and Wales.

  lv.  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)

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

  The Government welcomes the Committee's views on the UK's traditional reliance on landfill, and on the emphasis on waste reduction. As Less Waste More Value, A Waste Management Strategy for Northern Ireland and SEPA's draft National Waste Strategy for Scotland: A Blueprint for Progress 1997-2001 make clear, the Government recognises that the best way to reduce the impact of waste on the environment can be simply to avoid producing it. We are keen to tackle waste minimisation in all sectors. For example, in the domestic sector, we believe that the efforts being made by many households on recycling should be extended into waste minimisation. The actions we are considering to achieve this aim are set out in 3.3.1 of the consultation paper for England and Wales and in Component 4 of the Northern Ireland Consultation paper.

September 1998

27   The Government's consultation paper on the waste strategy for England and Wales, issued by DETR in June 1998. Back

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