Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
MONDAY 1 JULY 2002
MP, MS SUE
280. Let me move to one specific activity which
your department is involving itself with under the Special Waste
Regulation which is this change in terms of the term we have used
up to now, "special waste", with the term "hazardous
waste". When will this special waste regime review actually
be concluded and can you give the Committee a flavour of what
you think the outcomes will be?
(Mr Meacher) As I am sure you know, Chairman, the
reason for the review of the special waste regime is in order
to implement the changes which have been required by the Commission's
Hazardous Waste List which is defined as 94/904. That has been
recently changed. A large number of additional waste streams,
as many as 200, will now be classified as hazardous waste. As
a consequence of course we in the UK will, as will other Member
States, have to change our own list. We have already had a consultation
paper on this. We will be issuing a second consultation paper
shortly and we would expect to lay the revised regulations around
the end of this year or possibly early 2003 with the expectation
that they will come into force in the summer or autumn of next
281. Does Ms Ellis or Mr Hewitt represent your
interests at all in Brussels with the detailed negotiations?
(Mr Meacher) They can answer that, but the basic principle
is, as with all directives and regulations, that they are in close
touch with colleagues from UKREP but it is UKREP of course, which
is based in Brussels, which does need to be properly briefed in
detail, which will then conduct many of the negotiations with
282. I am interested, if they wanted to express
a view, in how they found other Member States at official level
viewing this process which the Minister has just described, whether
they pull their hair out as much as perhaps we are doing, although
they look pretty well toned in that department. Would you care
to make a comment?
(Mr Hewitt) Perhaps on the Landfill Directive, which
is really my only area of European negotiation, the TAC has gone
about its business rather more slowly than we would wish. It is
probably true to say that we tore our hair out rather more than
some others did because after all we are amongst those countries
who landfill most waste and it becomes a much more difficult and
important issue for us to resolve. That is one of the reasons
why we have been pushing at it. But of course we are only one
of 15 in the end. It is a bit like a convoy. You end up going
to some extent at the speed of the slowest rather than at the
speed of the quickest.
283. What about the Commission's ability to
deal with this? Are you happy that they are technically competent
and aware of what they are unleashing on everybody or is it a
bit of a voyage of discovery for them?
(Mr Hewitt) I would not want to comment on their technical
competence, not least as I am not a techie myself. The circumstances
between the Landfill Directive, for example, and fridges are rather
different. They recognised, as I understand it, at the time they
agreed the Landfill Directive that what they were doing was putting
to one side for some further work an area that was actually rather
horribly complicated, because it required some technical people
from across Europe to be going at the issue and coming to an accommodation
and an agreement on it, so I think the circumstances were rather
different and it was perhaps a fairly sensible model to adopt.
What on the face of it was slightly odd was that they agreed the
directive before that work was concluded and so it then took rather
a long time getting to the end of that work, so in those terms
the process is distinctly odd and that was the thing that struck
me when I first came to my role now, but no, it is not a silly
thing to do, to ask the technical people to go at a very difficult
284. Do I take it from the previous answer that
the Commission in Europe decides what is and what is not hazardous
waste? We are not our own masters in this?
(Mr Meacher) This is of course a technical matter
and it will be technical advice received from the Technical Advisory
285. In Europe?
(Mr Meacher) In Europe, yes, on which there will be
representatives, I assume, from all Member States.
286. Does that go right down to the definition?
I see from the Local Government evidence that edible oils and
fly ashI am not sure what fly ash isare defined
as hazardous waste. Is there a distinction there between edible
oils and fly ash chucked out by the average household (I chuck
out great buckets of olive oil because we are not having that
foreign muck in our household and fly ash must be produced by
domestic fires), that is, domestic production of those hazardous
wastes, and industrial production of them?
(Mr Meacher) In the case of fly ash of course, that
does contain certain very dangerous substances, namely dioxins,
which come out of the incinerator stacks. Edible oils are a different
matter. I do not know why they are regarded as hazardous. With
regard to your question about domestic hazardous waste, it is
currently excluded from the Hazardous Waste Directive and also
from our Special Waste Regulations. However, some household wastes
may be classified as hazardous if they are separately collected,
for example, at a civic amenity site, depending what they are.
If we are now talking, as we are, about computer monitors, television
screens, fluorescent lighting, and they were assembled in large
numbers at civic amenity sites that could under the directive
be regarded as a hazardous site.
287. That cannot be right. You are saying if
it is separately collected it can be defined as hazardous but,
if it is not, it is not. Is that right?
(Mr Meacher) Sorry; could you repeat that?
288. If it is separately collected you can define
some household waste as hazardous waste, but if there is no arrangement
in the local authority for separate collection then what was hazardous
waste in those authorities is not hazardous waste in the authorities
that do not collect it.
(Mr Meacher) If it is in single items dealt with by
re-use, recovery, dismantling, then it is not going to be put
on a site in quantities which need to be regarded as hazardous
Mr Mitchell: No, but if I have got a broken
neon tube and I just shove it in the dustbin and nobody knows,
what happens then?
289. Along with a bucket load of olive oil.
(Mr Meacher) It certainly is not hazardous waste.
(Ms Ellis) There is a slight complication there with
the Hazardous Waste Directive and it is something that has been
introduced in the amendments that we have been looking at. I think
that the local authorities referred to it before. If you are a
householders with a TV set, for example, if you drop it into your
wheelie bin and it is collected as part of your municipal rubbish,
then it is not considered to be hazardous. However, if you get
the local authority to collect it as part of a separate collection,
which they often do for bulky items, or indeed if the householder
takes it to the CA site himself in the back of his car and delivers
it, it is hazardous waste. That is something that is defined by
(Mr Meacher) The logic of that is, I accept, slightly
290. What about climate change, though, if Joe
Soap turns up with the TV and is told that it is not wanted here
and neither is edible oil? Is there a chance that that sort of
absurdity can be resolved?
(Ms Ellis) We are going to need to talk to the local
authorities about it. As they have mentioned, there is a possibility
that we need to look at it with them, maybe using exemptions to
licensing arrangements or other arrangements to ensure that the
householder or anybody else who ends up with a TV set does not
have practical problems in getting rid of it and indeed that the
local authorities do not have an unnecessary burden either.
291. I only asked that question to have a little
fun. To go on to the question I was supposed to ask, why have
the Government not set targets for a reduction in hazardous waste
production in the Waste Strategy 2000? After all, we have set
targets for everything else from teenage pregnancies to smoking
plot, so why did we not set targets for hazardous waste production?
(Mr Meacher) There are targets for reduction of all
forms of waste as an attempt under the waste strategy to reduce
the growth of arisings and to promote recycling, re-use, recovery,
and that applies to hazardous substances as well as non-hazardous
292. They were not in the Waste Strategy 2000?
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
293. They were?
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
294. How are you going to get such reductions?
(Mr Meacher) In exactly the same way as all the reductions
are to be got. We have set targets which require a doubling of
the level of recycling and recovery for all local authorities
(and that covers the whole of the country, and this is domestic
waste, of course,) within three years by 2003-04, and a trebling
within five years, by 2005-06, and that includes hazardous waste.
295. Minister, we have already talked about
the delays in reaching a point where the Member States can vote
on the waste acceptance criteria. We know when that is going to
be now. Next comes the question of implementing those criteria.
In the written evidence that we have received from the department,
paragraph 44, DEFRA says, "the UK has argued that given the
delay in agreeing the criteria and the fact that we will need
to develop infrastructure to treat waste to meet the criteria
or dispose of waste that can't meet the criteria, we should be
given a realistic timescale for transposing and implementing the
criteria." What, in the judgement of DEFRA, from July 23
onwards would be a realistic timescale?
(Mr Meacher) The Commission has now agreed a transition
period to bring the waste acceptance criteria into effect up to
July 2005 and we are in discussion with the industry as to whether
that does constitute a sufficient timescale.
296. And that consultation is under way at the
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
297. How flexible do you feel the Commission
would be, assuming the consultation leads to the industry saying,
"We do need longer than that if we are going to invest in
the infrastructure that is needed"? Are there signs of flexibility
(Mr Meacher) As I said, the Commission certainly accepts
that the production of the waste acceptance criteria has taken
a great deal longer than they originally anticipated. Their original
view was that it would be ready by July 2001 and, as has already
been said, it is still not completed although it should be completed
this month. Of course, if we were to argue for a period longer
than the 2005 which has been offered, we would have to get agreement
with other Member States, which is the usual form of negotiation.
We want to find our industry view. It seems to me that a three
year period is probably reasonable but if we had a very different
view then we would argue for it strongly and of course we would
lobby other Member States as well.
298. You have mentioned other Member States.
Is the view emerging that other Member States do feel that 2005
is a reasonable timescale or are others more advanced?
(Mr Meacher) It is certainly true that we are behind
other Member States in some degree because of our over-reliance
traditionally on landfill. The fact that 80 to 85 per cent of
the household waste stream goes to landfill means it is significantly
higher than, perhaps the highest, amongst other Member States.
Having said that and, given that other Member States have a much
higher level of recycling and recovery already than we do, it
is true that the Landfill Directive has not yet been fully implemented
in many other countries, not just the southern states but also
some of the northern statesin Germany, Belgium, Portugal,
Luxembourg, Greece, Italy and Finland, so we are not by any means
299. You mentioned the delays in the Commission's
waste acceptance criteria and that it is likely to be concluded
some time next month.
(Mr Meacher) Later this month. We are on 1 July.