Select Committee on European Communities Eleventh Report



Witnesses' Views

GENERAL

22. For the reasons given at the beginning of our Opinion (paragraph 0), this is an intentionally selective, and therefore relatively brief, summary of key points arising from a wide-ranging body of evidence, much of which was of a detailed technical nature. In general, we found that our opening question—"what are the key issues"—was more helpful in bringing focus to the enquiry than the responses to the more specific questions which followed. What emerged was a broad consensus in favour of the draft Directive—not only because it filled acknowledged gaps in legislative controls over incineration not covered by the existing Hazardous Waste and Municipal Waste Incineration Directives, but also because a uniform approach across Europe was seen as necessary for the single market, as well as for reassuring the public that emissions from incineration were consistently kept within acceptable limits. The question of subsidiarity was largely thought not to apply.

23. This general support for the proposals was expressed by the regulatory authorities (the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Environment and Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland), the waste disposal industry (the Environmental Services Association and several member companies, including Cleanaway) and the Energy from Waste Association. There was also support from the Institution of Chemical Engineers and from English Nature. Friends of the Earth, whilst accepting the principle of tight emission limits, contested the case for incineration on more fundamental grounds (paragraph 0).

24. Dissenting voices were primarily those who had invested substantially in existing combustion processes which make use of waste, in particular the cement industry (which we deal with in paragraphs      The BCA, backed by specific evidence from Rugby Cement, felt the proposals could prevent the use of waste-derived fuels in certain cement kilns (p178, Q179). Mr Hoddinott of Blue Circle Cement said that the cement industry could assist materially in absorbing wastes which would otherwise have to be disposed of: it could use as fuel 50 per cent of the UK's scrap tyres, around 10 per cent of UK packaging waste and about 50 per cent of liquid wastes. "We can reduce emissions, we can reduce fossil fuel extraction and we can actually solve some of those very difficult problems for the United Kingdom, and it helps us be more competitive." (Q234). The BCA's written submission listed other potential environmental benefits, which the Association believed would be severely prejudiced if the present draft of the Directive were to be implemented (p53). Mr Meacher, however, felt that, with the possible exception of wet kilns, the industry "should not have unreasonable difficulty in meeting the proposed emission limits"; even with tighter emission standards, he believed the price of waste-derived fuels would remain competitive compared with virgin fuels (Q435). and 0-0). Chemical Manufacture and Refining Ltd, who felt that the subsidiarity principle was significant for UK because of the low use of incineration for municipal waste in this country (p 139). Mr Pathmarajah (representing the Institute of Energy, North West Branch) felt that the degree of regulation envisaged could impede entry and development by potentially appropriate processes in relation to sustainable waste management (especially co-incineration) (p 163). The Electricity Association considered that the proposals could bring about the end of co­incineration in power stations (p 153).

THE WIDER CONTEXT: CONSISTENCY WITH INTERNATIONAL OBLIGATIONS AND OTHER COMMUNITY POLICIES

25. Several witnesses—e.g. the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)—emphasised the need to address the wider picture, i.e. that incineration could not be viewed in isolation from strategic issues relating to emissions control, emissions standards and pollution control. The Environment Agency considered that there would be no inconsistency between the Directive and other objectives (p 29). The Energy from Waste Association (EWA) and Cleanaway, however, considered that there were other sectors which should be targeted before incineration (pp 83, 143). Professor Coggins of the University of Sheffield saw a need for a comprehensive directive, focusing on producer responsibility and supporting the various waste stream directives, e.g. on packaging (p 197). The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) considered the proposals to be compatible with relevant international conventions (p 171).

26. The British Cement Association (BCA) pointed out that the UK National Air Quality Strategy already had provisional objectives for nitrogen dioxide and referred to the preparation of proposals for air emission ceilings by the Commission; it did not believe that the case for still further tightening of emissions had been made (p 52). Similar points were made by the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection (NSCA) (Q 270). Aspinwall and Company commented "it is not clear that the proposed emission limits have been set with reference to the provisional EU air quality limit values" (p 134).

MAKING IT HAPPEN

27. We asked Mr Meacher by what means the UK Government—given the dominance of the waste management industry by the private sector and the devolved responsibilities at both central and local government level for producing waste management strategies—would be able to ensure full compliance with the proposals on a UK­wide basis, as part of the UK's contribution to the reduction of global air pollution under its obligations to the EU and the wider international community. Mr Meacher said that the requirement would be for local waste management strategies to be prepared and approved "so that the cumulative impact does meet our international targets….The fact is we have got to achieve those overall cumulative standards and we have got to make sure that the laggards do not let down the whole country." He also referred to the use of fiscal incentives (QQ 483, 485).

28. We put it to the Minister that ultimately he did not have at his disposal the powers to ensure delivery. His response was that the purpose of the current reviews of national waste strategies (see paragraph 0) was to achieve exactly that—"to determine the instruments, the drivers, by which the Government's overall targets can be realised….I do think we have to assure ourselves that the instruments are sufficiently wide-ranging and sufficiently potent that we can reasonably expect to reach those targets. If, when we are halfway there, we are still well behind schedule, we will have to institute additional drivers and mechanisms." (Q 486)

COMPARABILITY OF CONTROLS ACROSS INDUSTRIAL SECTORS

29. Although not a major focus of the written evidence, a key question which we pursued in oral evidence was whether the aim should be to have comparable controls for all industrial sources of the same pollutants, based on assessments of costs, risks and benefits. Mr Meacher, when asked why incinerators of waste should be treated as a more serious case than other thermal and combustion plants such as power stations, agreed that in principle emission limits ought to be the same: "We are gradually over time developing a mosaic as opposed to a necessarily totally consistent pattern in atmospheric controls within the EU." (Q 438)

30. An important aspect of this question was whether co­incineration of non-hazardous waste should be subject to the same emission controls as simple waste or energy-from-waste incineration. Among those arguing for comparability of control were the NSCA, Friends of the Earth, the Environment Agency and the Environmental Services Association (ESA). Shanks and McEwan commented: "The principle of regulation of co-incineration of non-hazardous waste is most welcome and the approach is generally sound" (p 190). Cleanaway was concerned that the co­incineration rules proposed under the Directive were in fact too lax (p 142). Commission officials declared themselves to be neutral as between co­incineration and straight waste incineration: the aim was to establish a level playing field of regulation and to ensure that where incineration took place it should do so in the safest possible way (QQ 538-9).

31. The IWM emphasised the need for a level playing-field for combustion processes incorporating wastes of a similar nature (p 169); the EWA similarly argued that plants producing the same range of emissions should be subject to the same controls (p 83). English Nature commented that co­incineration should not be allowed to "represent a loophole allowing lower standards of environmental protection" (p 154). IChemE similarly thought it was wrong that a particular sector should enjoy a less stringent regime than others "purely to allow the process plant to consume what they regard as large quantities of low grade, cheap fuel" (p 171).

32. Contrary views were expressed by the Electricity Association, who (with their member Scottish Power) felt that co-incineration should not be subject to the same controls as pure waste incineration unless it resulted in a substantial change in emissions than would otherwise be produced by normal fuel combustion (p 153); similar opposition was expressed by Du Pont, Safety-Kleen and Chemical Manufacturing and Refining Ltd. The Oil Recycling Association considered that the implied restrictions on burning waste oils could "close down an option that may well represent the BPEO[13] for this waste stream whilst leaving few viable alternatives" (p 175).

33. Water UK questioned whether sewage sludge incineration facilities should be subject to the same controls as energy-from-waste plant, arguing that mono-sewage sludge incineration was sufficiently special to warrant a separate category within the Directive (p 204).

34. The BCA, backed by specific evidence from Rugby Cement, felt the proposals could prevent the use of waste-derived fuels in certain cement kilns (p 178, Q 179). Mr Hoddinott of Blue Circle Cement said that the cement industry could assist materially in absorbing wastes which would otherwise have to be disposed of: it could use as fuel 50 per cent of the UK's scrap tyres[14], around 10 per cent of UK packaging waste and about 50 per cent of liquid wastes. "We can reduce emissions, we can reduce fossil fuel extraction and we can actually solve some of those very difficult problems for the United Kingdom, and it helps us be more competitive." (Q 234). The BCA's written submission listed other potential environmental benefits, which the Association believed would be severely prejudiced if the present draft of the Directive were to be implemented (p 53). Mr Meacher, however, felt that, with the possible exception of wet kilns, the industry "should not have unreasonable difficulty in meeting the proposed emission limits"; even with tighter emission standards, he believed the price of waste-derived fuels would remain competitive compared with virgin fuels (Q 435).

35. Mr Blokland, Rapporteur to the European Parliament's Environment Committee, drew our attention to the fact the Parliament had adopted an amendment to the draft Directive which would provide a derogation of up to 1200mg/Nm3 for wet process kilns for a period of four years, provided that the thermal treatment of waste in such plants resulted in significant reduction of NOx emissions. The decision had been taken essentially on political grounds (Q 554).


13   Best Practicable Environmental Option. Back

14   Evidence was received from SITA Holding UK Ltd on their dedicated tyre incineration plant at Wolverhampton. This had the potential for burning up to 120,000 scrap tyres per year, and had no difficulty in meeting a NOx limit of 150mg/m3 set by the Environment Agency (p 206). Back


 
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