Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


Letter from the Chairman to the Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP, Minister for the Environment, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  Your Explanatory Memorandum of 18 October 2002 has been considered by Sub-Committee D, who have agreed to clear it. We do however wish to make some observations on this dossier, the progress of which we have been following, through press reports and other sources, with some concern—ever since the former Sub-Committee C reported in 1998 on its inquiry into the Directive when it was in draft ("Sustainable Landfill", ECC 17th Report, 1997-98, HL 83).

  We realise that the negotiations which preceded the adoption of the Directive in July 1999 were inordinately protracted, taking the best part of eight years. But that does not seem to us to excuse the slow speed of implementation, not least in the UK. We find it incredible that essential definitions and working practices are still to be decided in 2002. We urge the Government to continue to press for speedy resolution of these matters, so that legislation can be properly enacted and achieve its purpose of protecting the environment.

  More and more targets are being developed and agreed in Brussels and yet there seems to have been no discernible increase in the pace of implementation of waste-related legislation. There has been ample time for Government and industry to get into a better state of preparedness. It would seem that the lessons of the refrigerator debacle have yet to sink in fully.

  Within the context of UK waste management policy in general, we were disturbed to read that the OECD has launched a report which finds that, despite recycling efforts, the amount of solid waste going to disposal is on the increase. In particular, it shows recycling rates in the UK to be among the lowest in OECD countries, that there is little incentive to reduce waste generation or landfill, and that significant investment in waste treatment capacity will be needed to implement EU legislation. We note that the Strategy Unit, in a report just published, similarly highlights these issues.

  It is worth reminding the Government of the conclusions of the 1998 Report:

    "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.

    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."

  2 December 2002

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