Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


1.   What further consideration has been given to an incineration tax, given that figures in the Waste Strategy suggest that incineration with energy recovery displacing average-mix electricity generation has more than three times the environmental cost of landfill, which is taxed?

  The Government has no plans to introduce an incineration tax.

  Based on a number of published studies, The Regulatory Impact Assessment for the Waste Strategy suggests that the average external cost of landfilling waste is around £3 / tonne. It also suggests that the average environmental cost of incinerating waste ranges from £10 per tonne (as the question states, roughly three times the environmental cost of landfill) if the energy produced displaces average mix electricity generation to a benefit of around £17 per tonne if coal fired power is displaced.

  We are, however, consulting on the basis that energy from waste will be excluded from the renewables obligation thus removing a significant subsidy to incineration.

2.   What are the plans for disposing of fly-ash from incinerators? As we understand it, this ash will be classed as hazardous waste and will therefore have to be sent to hazardous waste landfills—what plans are there for the provision of such landfill sites?

  Most fly ash is currently disposed of to landfill sites. Under current definitions not all fly ash is necessarily hazardous waste as the levels of heavy metals and dioxins are generally too low to trigger the thresholds that are used in the UK to determine whether waste is hazardous. However, some fly ash may need to be treated as hazardous due to its calcium oxide content, which can cause it to be irritant or corrosive. The classification of waste as hazardous or non-hazardous is one of the issues to be considered as part of the forthcoming review of the Special Waste Regulations, discussed in more detail in our response to Question 5 below.

  Fly ash is most likely to be hazardous waste where the incinerator is fitted with flue gas desulphurisation equipment. It is likely that such abatement plant will become rather more widespread over the next few years, as incinerators are upgraded to meet the requirements of the Waste Incineration Directive. However, it is possible that some incinerator operators will choose to use alternative abatement techniques that do not give rise to corrosive fly ash.

  Where fly ash is classed as hazardous waste due to its corrosive properties, under the Landfill Directive, it will be banned from landfills from 2004. Possible treatment techniques for this waste include solidification and vitrification, which would neutralise its corrosive properties and allow landfilling to take place.

  We do not yet know precisely how many hazardous waste landfill sites will be provided following implementation of the Landfill Directive. This will depend to a large extent on the acceptance criteria that are set for wastes going to such landfills and the engineering standards that must be met.

3.   Following Philip Ward's answer regarding an EU Composting Directive, what is the Department's assessment of the likelihood of such a Directive being introduced (especially given the publication on 20 October of a first draft working document on the biological treatment of biodegradable waste), and if it were introduced, how might it affect the Strategy?

  The Commission have announced their clear intention to introduce an instrument to deal with the treatment of biodegradable waste and help implement the targets in the Landfill Directive. They are particularly interested in composting and anaerobic digestion. It is too early to say whether this will result in a proposal for a Composting Directive. And until we are clear what such a measure will require, we cannot know what effect it might have on the Strategy. However we continue to be doubtful about the value of a wide-ranging prescriptive instrument as distinct from agreed standards for compost quality.

4.   Is the Government planning to issue any guidance on the use of BPEO in the context of sustainable waste management?

  The Department is undertaking research into how to establish the most sustainable waste management option. The study aims to identify best practice for use by waste planning authorities in England in identifying and assessing factors to be taken into account in deciding what is the most sustainable waste management option for dealing with controlled waste streams, having regard to the legislative and policy framework for waste planning. It is anticipated that the study will be completed by spring 2001 and the guidance is expected to be published subsequently.

5.   Further to paragraph 37 of your memorandum, what changes to domestic hazardous waste legislation is the Government considering, and when might it expect to implement any changes?

  A number of changes to the Special Waste Regulations 1996 (as amended) are being considered. There are a number of drivers for these proposed revisions.

  First, approximately 250 new entries to the European Commission's Hazardous Waste List will need to be implemented in domestic legislation by 1 January 2002. The effect of these changes will be to increase the scope of the Special Waste Regulations, although many of the wastes that will be considered hazardous for the first time at European level are already treated as "special" in the UK.

  Second, the European Commission has recently sent an Article 226 letter to the UK, indicating that, in its opinion, the Special Waste Regulations do not fully implement the Hazardous Waste Directive in a number of respects. In particular, the Commission has stated that the UK defines what is hazardous (special) incorrectly, in that we apply thresholds for hazardous properties that must be exceeded for a waste to be special.

  Third, DETR recently commissioned a major policy evaluation of the Regulations, which was undertaken by the environmental consultants, Enviros Aspinwall. This study involved extensive consultation with a wide range of people and organisations with an interest in hazardous waste issues. It emerged that there was general consensus that the current Regulations were too complex and that they did little to deliver strategic objectives, such as hazardous waste reduction.

  The Department intends to issue a consultation paper on the review of the Special Waste Regulations early in 2001, with a view to the changes that are agreed coming into force on 1 January 2002, (the date by which the changes to the Hazardous Waste List should come into force). We are currently in discussion with other Government Departments about the content of the consultation paper. However, as a result of the policy evaluation, Enviros Aspinwall recommended that the Department should consider a number of changes, including the following:

    —  replacing the domestic concept of "special waste" with the term, "hazardous waste", defined in accordance with the European Hazardous Waste Directive;

    —  removing the requirement for movements of special waste to be pre-notified to the Environment Agency;

    —  registration of hazardous waste producers;

    —  requiring hazardous waste producers to submit quarterly returns to the Agency, detailing waste consigned;

    —  introducing scaled charges according to the amount of hazardous waste produced and whether it is recycled or sent for final disposal.

6.   What is the Government's current position on how co-operation between WCAs and WDAs will be encouraged, and what action will be taken in the case of conflict between the approaches taken by them?

  The Government encourages waste collection and disposal authorities to work together to manage their waste through Municipal Waste Management Strategies. Many authorities are already working on these, and Waste Strategy 2000 made clear the Government's intention to make them statutory. The Municipal Waste Management Strategy should set out the authorities' joint policies and proposals for the collection, treatment and disposal of waste, reflecting the central place of increased recycling and composting. It will need to include the authorities' proposals to meet the performance standards set under Best Value, and we encourage authorities to meet their recycling performance standards jointly where appropriate. We will be issuing guidance on Municipal Waste Management Strategies shortly.

  Waste Strategy 2000 made the commitment that the Government would identify whether changes are needed to legislation to support closer working between collection and disposal authorities, and how these might be implemented under Best Value or other legislation.

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