Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


  The Select Committee Inquiry into Delivering Sustainable Waste Management has sought answers from the Environment Agency to several supplementary questions which were not asked during the Agency's oral evidence session. These questions and the Environment Agency's responses are set out below. Attached to this paper, is an annex which outlines actions by the Environment Agency in response to comments made by the Committee in previous Inquiries.

What infrastructure will be required to deal with hazardous waste in the future?

  We know that co-disposal (mixing hazardous and non-hazardous wastes) will cease, as will the landfill of liquids and certain hazardous solids. In addition, all wastes will have to have some form of treatment prior to landfill except when this offers no significant benefit.

  On the basis of the National Waste Production Survey, the Agency would expect that existing treatment facilities are likely to be used to capacity. In addition, there will be a number of applications to extend plant. We also expect to see the development of hazardous waste landfills, particularly as a result of co-disposal sites switching to become hazardous waste landfills.

  In the medium-term, the Agency believes there will be increased chemical treatment and additional physical treatment, particularly through sorting and more use of solidification. In addition there may be increased hazardous waste incineration capacity, although this will depend on the balance struck between built incinerators and other industrial plant achieving the same standards, eg cement kilns.

How do you envisage the end to co-disposal affecting hazardous waste landfill void space in the future?

  The UK has a long experience of hazardous waste disposal in co-disposal landfills. Hazardous waste landfills will have different management and pollution characteristics from co-disposal landfills. Government and the Agency will need to ensure that hazardous waste landfill sites are only located in areas that remain environmentally secure throughout the potential polluting life of the site.

  The Environment Agency does not expect the ending of co-disposal to affect significantly the rate of consumption of voidspace for hazardous waste. However, the Agency does expect the number of sites available to become fewer, both as a result of potential industry reluctance to operate hazardous waste landfills and as a result of restrictions placed upon such sites by the Agency to ensure they remain environmentally secure. The greatest effect on airspace for hazardous and other wastes is likely to result from the ban on liquids to landfill, because liquid wastes, which consumed virtually no airspace in co-disposal landfill, will have to be solidified in some way to prior to landfill.

Do you accept the criticism that you have failed to influence the strategic debate on waste management?

  The Agency does not accept the criticism. A proper strategic debate needs to be based on sound information on waste types and quantities, and to encompass the concepts of BPEO, integrated waste management, the evaluation of the life cycle impacts and costs and benefits. In all of these areas the Agency has taken a lead in providing information and assistance to decision-makers.

  It is the role of democratically accountable bodies to determine waste management strategies, either nationally or more locally. The Agency's role is to supply impartial information and advice to decision-makers. The Environment Agency contributed to the development of Waste Strategy 2000 and has recently published extensive regional information on wastes and their management in Strategic Waste Management Assessments.

Many other countries are setting targets of 50 per cent for recycling and composting of municipal waste. Do you think that the UK targets may be too low?

  Targets are necessary in order to public action and opinion in the desired direction but they have to be both challenging and achievable. Given where we start from in the UK we think that targets of 50 per cent would be counter-productive, because it would appear unachievable. The important thing is to retain a flexible approach while making progress towards the statutory targets. This means checking regularly whether further increases are environmentally sensible, economically affordable and socially acceptable.

Is the Environment Agency licensing and regulating composting facilities effectively? Are you confident that you have the staff with adequate skills to be able to enforce waste management regulations, such as the Packaging Regulations?

  The Environment Agency has recognised the need to improve the competence of its Environmental Protection Officers who are new to waste management. A programme has been established which incorporates formal courses and training in practical skills from experienced practitioners. New waste officers do not undertake inspections on their own during their first six months in the Agency. Further training packages are being prepared to take the structured training programme through the first 24 months of an officer's time with the Agency.

  With regard to composting, the Environment Agency has produced a licence template for composting plant as part of its library of licence conditions. This has helped Area staff adopt a consistent approach. The Agency is also developing technical guidance for composting operations to improve the knowledge of environmental protection officers in this subject and expects to issue this in draft in 2001.

  With regard to those composting facilities that are registered as exempt, the Agency has made proposals to the DETR for modifications of the existing arrangements and is awaiting the DETR's consultation paper on these and other issues relating to exemptions.

  The Agency believes it has the necessary skills and competencies to deal with the Packaging Regulations. In addition, we have brought a number of successful prosecutions against companies avoiding the requirements of these regulations.

How much work are you doing with the Regional Technical Advisory Bodies? Are you confident that you have the expertise to advise these bodies on all waste management processes?

  The Committee has seen the Strategic Waste Management Assessments (SWMAs) recently published, nine of which were for English planning regions. The SWMAs contain information on the production of waste, the management of waste and an assessment of the environmental impacts of different municipal waste management scenarios, taking into account the impact of growth. SWMAs have been designed and developed with the RTABs in mind. They cover the same administrative areas as the RTABs in England, and wherever possible contain information presented at the level of individual waste planning authorities.

  The Agency is an active member of all established RTABs providing information and independent advice. The interests of RTABs are a major driver in the Agency for the continued collection and improvement of local waste management information.

Have any Government Departments adopted your green procurement policy? What efforts are you making to encourage other Agencies and Government Departments to adopt similar policies?

  The Agency is not aware of any Government Departments that have adopted our green procurement policy. Within the last 12 months the Environment Agency has made presentations on our environmental procurement policy and tools for delivery to amongst others:

    —  Inland Revenue

    —  DETR

    —  The Home Office

    —  MAFF

    —  The National Assembly for Wales

    —  NDPBs and Executive Agencies.

  These organisations are considering its application to their procurement activity.

  We are planning to place our environmental procurement strategy and tools on the Environment Agency website in Spring 2001.

With regard to Greater Manchester Waste's soil-making material: why has the Agency now decided the use of this is not acceptable and what changes will you require to allow its use to be resumed. Is any action to be taken with regard to the material already used by GMW for "soil-making" (disposal of waste to unlicensed site, landfill tax avoidance)?

  The Agency reviewed Greater Manchester Waste's (GMW's) operation to produce soil-making materials because of complaints received and our review of the definition of waste as a result of judgements from the European Courts. GMW are looking to undertake further composting of the material to allow it to meet a higher specification. This activity is likely to be undertaken on a licensed landfill.

  The Agency does not intend to take action against GMW, because the trials were undertaken with its knowledge and consent. We will, however, be informing HM Customs and Excise that the material produced was waste and was deposited on land.

The question of mixing fly ash and bottom ash at some incinerators: where is it taking place? What has/is the Environment Agency done/doing about it? What plans does the Agency have to tackle this in the future?

  Fly ash and bottom ash are not currently being mixed at any municipal waste incinerator or similar refuse derived fuel burning plant. According to our knowledge they have only been mixed in the past at Byker in Newcastle and Edmonton in North London. The Byker plant is currently burning coal not waste, and Edmonton ceased mixing of fly ash and bottom ash earlier this year.

  We will not permit any new plant to mix fly ash and bottom ash where these are produced as separate streams. The proposal for the re-developed incineration process at Byker includes arrangements for separation of fly ash from bottom ash.

How many prosecutions have there been of those misusing exempt sites?

  The Agency maintains a database relating to completed prosecutions by type of offence. There is no specific offence relating to the breach of an exemption. If however material was deposited outside the terms of an exemption then potentially an offence of depositing waste on unlicensed land would have been committed—that is an offence contrary to s33(1)(a) Environmental Act 1990.

  Between 1 January 1999 and 12 December 2000 the Agency prosecuted 395 cases for offences under section 33(1)(a).

Annex A


Recommendation Committee's commentsAgency action
1The continuing lack of information in Government about waste is extraordinary. The production of accurate statistics on waste arising, the composition of waste at the point of arising must be a Government priority. In accordance with Government priorities, the Agency has delivered a programme of work rectifying the lack of waste information, and has included:
A national waste production survey—first survey completed. Funding sought from Government for repeat survey. Funding for this is the subject of ongoing discussions with DETR.
51The Agency has already been charged with the handling of the national waste survey; the Government must ensure that the results are delivered on time. Procedures should be set in train for an analysis of the number, capacity, and type of waste collection and management facilities. National Waste Database—to be on the web-site in early 2001
National Waste Exchange Scheme—to be on the web-site in early 2001
Draft UK Waste Classification Scheme
A standard system for waste management site returns
Life Cycle Assessment Tool—WISARD made available in December 1999
Strategic Waste Management Assessments—published in Autumn 2000
6Whilst we welcome the Agency's development of life-cycle assessment as a tool . . . the methodology the Agency is developing will need to be applied rigorously, on a case by case basis. The Agency has ensured that guidance is provided to users to ensure that the methodology is applied appropriately. This work emphasises the Agency's commitment to providing local authorities and industry with relevant and innovative guidance to facilitate waste management decision-making.
7The life cycle assessment model—any future updates should be available free, and not seen as a source of income for the Agency (or anyone else). The Agency developed the tool to assist local authorities and businesses in waste management planning. The software was developed under contract for the Agency that customised existing, commercially available software. The priority for the Agency was to negotiate a level of subsidy which would enable wide access to the tool. The software is available to local authorities, academia, the public and NGOs at a subsidised price of £1,000 + VAT including training (compared to the unsubsidised cost of £10,000 + VAT). This is paid to the consultant and not the Agency and includes a contribution of £150 towards future developments.
24All future landfills should be efficiently compacted, fully engineered and lined to ensure the capture of leachate and gas, and that the Agency must place the strongest requirements on operators of existing landfills to ensure that their duty of care is complied with in full. The Agency remains committed to minimising the impact of the environment of the operation of all landfill sites. To promote consistency it has developed standard licence conditions which are enforceable, and high standards of engineering and operation are stipulated in a waste management licence determined by an appropriate risk assessment. All new and transferred licenses are supported by financial guarantees for site aftercare, now amount to some £90 million.
40Audits of training should continue as a high priority for the Agency. These should be backed by implementation of appropriate training at all levels, from new entrants to senior management. The Agency has introduced a comprehensive package of competency based training, including an induction programme for some 220 new entrants, and a performance appraisal scheme relating to objectives and skills and behaviours. A pilot scheme of industry secondments has also been successfully trialled. A further programme of secondments has been established for 2001.
41We welcome the Agency's move to risk based appraisal. However, the Agency must guarantee that inspections will be made by fully trained inspectors, in person, and without warning. The Agency's "base-line" inspection rate for all sites be presented to Ministers for approval before being finalised. The Agency has successfully introduced a risk-based system for site inspections (OPRA—Operator and Pollution Risk Appraisal system) that will improve standards by targeting inspections where they are most needed. The scheme has been approved by the Minister. The scheme is complemented by a standard inspection methodology.
All inspections continue to be made by fully trained, competent inspectors. The value of visiting sites without prior arrangement remains an important aspect of the regulatory regime.
43The Agency's new appraisal system must be backed by a strong prosecution policy. The Agency successfully introduced its Enforcement and Prosecution Policy in 1999. This emphasises the Agency's determination to take a firm approach to environmental offences. Some 1,000 prosecutions have been taken by the Agency for waste related offences. In total 27 people have received jail sentences.
44The Agency (and Minister) should seek early discussions with the Lord Chancellor's department concerning magistrates' awareness of the seriousness of environmental offences. The Agency, in conjunction with DETR, the Health and Safety Executive and Drinking Water Inspectorate has had discussions with the Lord Chancellor's Department on the issue of sentencing of environmental offences and raising the awareness of Magistrates of the seriousness of such offences.
45The problem of fly tipping must be tackled. We therefore support the Agency's application for additional resources in this respect. The Agency is actively combating fly tipping and working with others, particularly local authorities, to mitigate the effects where it has occurred. A protocol on fly tipping was drawn up between the Local Government Association and the Environment Agency on 11 August 1998. A National Flytipping Stakeholders Forum has been set up and additional funding to combat environmental crime has been sought (further details below).
The Environment Agency (May 2000)
We are dismayed that this very serious environmental problem (fly tipping) should have been effectively ignored for so long. The possibility that the Landfill Tax would encourage fly tipping was a major concern for environmental groups, local government and the public from before its introduction in October 1996. Regardless of the concerns expressed at that time, and of our observations and recommendations on the subject in two subsequent Reports, the Government and the Environment Agency have failed to take the necessary action to prevent the illegal dumping of waste. In the meantime, untold damage may be being done to our environment. We recommend that the Environment Agency take urgent steps effectively to tackle this very serious problem, and that the Government provide it with the necessary funding to enable it to do so. We are committed to vigorous enforcement but fly tipping is a more difficult area for successful investigation and prosecution than for other areas of waste regulation. While we have successfully prosecuted on almost 1,000 occasions for waste offences, our success rate on fly tipping has been well below our average for other offences.
In response to concerns raised in previous reports, and in recognition of the impact of the introduction of the Landfill Tax, the Agency established a National Fly-Tipping Stakeholders Forum. The forum includes the Country Landowners Association, Tidy Britain Group, and other key stakeholders to provide a national focus for issues relating to the fly tipping of waste. DETR are also closely involved in developments. The forum runs "anti fly-tipping" campaigns targeting specific sectors, including householders, and develops guidance that promotes best practice. We have also employed novel techniques such as aerial surveillance, hidden video cameras and other intelligence gathering operations—to better monitor and target fly-tipping "hotspots".
However, some of the cases highlighted in the Select Committee's report are as a result of organised criminal activity. We are currently considering, with Government, what further action can be taken in those instances. As part of this work, the Agency has submitted a case for additional resources commencing in 2001-02 for an environmental crime unit. It seems unlikely that these resources will be forthcoming. We have also submitted to Government proposals for the modification of the Waste Management Licensing Exemptions provisions, and are awaiting DETR consultation on these proposals. Funding could be provided through the exemption scheme to enable more inspection of exempt activities to be undertaken and to target the abusers of the system.

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