Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Local Government Association (LGA)

  The Local Government Association represents the interests of all the local authorities in England and Wales and is therefore able to speak on behalf of waste collection authorities and waste disposal authorities, on whom the Ozone Depleting Substances Regulation (ODSR) is having a major impact.

  The LGA and some local authorities have been in discussion with DEFRA since the issues raised by the implementation of the ODSR, and the anticipated difficulties that these were likely to cause, first came to the fore, last year. Local authorities are represented on an officer-level DEFRA "stakeholders" group and the LGA is represented on the Ministerial "roundtable" of leading players (local authorities, retailers, etc) first convened by the Minister for the Environment on 18 February 2002. The LGA, acutely aware of the pressure which local authorities are currently experiencing, is anxious to find a solution to the current fridges situation, and is committed to work with the Government and other leading players to achieve an early resolution of outstanding difficulties. In this context, there may well be lessons for the Government to consider in terms of the experience of other European countries which are somewhat more advanced in identifying solutions to the same problems caused by the introduction of the ODSR.

  A major concern which the LGA has is with regard to the delays which have taken place in adequately responding to the ODSR, which have led to the present unfortunate situation where local authorities are having to bear the brunt of a problem outside their own making.

  The Association's concern centres upon the Government's slowness in realising the likely impact of the regulations and the action that would be needed to respond to their implementation. The ODSR was, in fact, agreed in 1998, coming into force in October 2000 when it replaced EC Regulation 3093/94. Notwithstanding the uncertainty concerning, and clarification sought regarding, the issue of whether foam containing ODS would be subject to the regulations, it is considered that far higher priority should have been given by the Government to resolving this issue at an earlier stage.

  In the event, it was not until Summer 2001 that local authorities and the waste industry received confirmation that the ODSR would in fact affect the recovery of foam contained in refrigerators. At this stage, local authority representatives flagged up to DEFRA the likely scale of problems and the possibility of 'fridge mountains' building up, due to the Regulation's impact. There is a perception among those involved since Summer 2001 in discussions with the Government that these warnings were insufficiently heeded.

  Notification to local authorities from DEFRA of the potential impact of the Regulation was only sent on 11 October 2001, whilst guidance on the storage of waste refrigeration equipment was circulated by DEFRA on 3 December 2001, barely three weeks prior to the Regulation coming into effect. At the same time, an additional £6 million was announced by the Government to assist local authorities with storage until the end of March 2002.

  As well as the fundamental delay in clarifying the impact of the Regulation and planning adequately in advance for its implementation, there have been subsequent delays in providing a final specification for treatment standards in treatment/reprocessing plants, in providing the £6 million to local authorities, and in dealing with the demise of the retailers' take-back schemes and finding a suitable alternative arrangement. These points are covered further below.

  The introduction of the Regulation, and in particular the cessation of the retailers' take-back schemes, has led to a massive increase in the number of end-of-life fridges which require to be dealt with by local authorities. Many local authorities are reporting a three or four-fold increase. Whereas, prior to the Regulation, in rough terms half of end-of-life fridges were covered by retailers' take-back schemes and half were going through the local authority route, that situation has now been transformed radically, with local authorities being the sole recipients. The Association is aware that contractors used by some retailers have gone out of business as a result of the ODSR. The argument is being put forward by some retailers that there may be a knock-on effect, such that some companies in the metal recycling business may stop taking white goods altogether, because of commercial considerations arising from the end of fridges take-back.

  The LGA supports the Minister for the Environment's action in drawing together a round table of relevant bodies, including the LGA, to address the take-back situation, and considers that its early resolution will play a critical role in helping to ease the present situation. It has to be borne in mind, of course, that notwithstanding the withdrawal of retailers from their take-back schemes, once the Waste Electrical and Electronics Equipment Directive comes into effect in a few years' time, retailers will be required to have such schemes in place. In this context, there are arguments for bringing forward the implementation of suitable schemes, rather than promoting a short-term solution which could have additional financial and administrative impacts on local authorities.

  An area of major concern for local authorities is the additional cost burden arising from the increased number of fridges with which they are required to deal. The LGA considers that the sum of £6 million allocated by the Government for storage of fridges up to the end of the present financial year is inadequate.

  DEFRA's estimate of the overall cost of implementing the regulations is in the region of £30-40 million. However, on information presently available, based on figures provided by local authorities, it is estimated that authorities are likely to need a minimum of £55 million to meet the additional costs. However, the Association is aware that other estimates produced earlier in the year have been significantly higher (eg by the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers, NAWDO). Whatever the likely figure—and we recognise that this will be affected by various factors, including trends in commercial rates, and the possible re-introduction of retailers' take-back—the sum required is likely to be significantly more than that allowed for by current assumptions. To date, there have been no meaningful discussions between the LGA/local authorities and DEFRA and the Treasury regarding these longer-term costs. The Association is anxious that progress should be made, to allow local authorities to make the necessary plans for the next financial year.

  The Association is concerned that, so far, no authorities have received any of the additional £6 million pledged in early December 2001 to meet the current financial year's storage costs. It is understood that the earliest this funding will become available to local authorities will be the start of the 2002-03 financial year through the rate support grant settlement.

  Essentially, at the present time, the principal difficulty for local authorities is in terms of the safe storage of fridges, until such time as there is sufficient capacity in the UK waste industry to cope with their treatment and disposal. As might be expected, many local authorities are considerably concerned, after only 2-3 months of the ODSR coming into effect, about the limited availability of storage space and, in many cases, the likelihood that this will be full before very long, giving rise to additional costs. Another obvious area of concern is in relation to complying with the health and safety requirements. The longer the problem of large numbers of fridges stockpiled awaiting treatment continues, the greater the likelihood of some unfortunate accident occurring, whether in relation to the personal safety of individuals or the possibility of a fire occurring, triggering the release of CFCs and HCFCs.

  The LGA recognises that the Environment Agency has taken a relaxed stance to the introduction of the ODSR, and has drawn up a standard licence for the handling and storage of waste refrigeration equipment. The Agency's line appears essentially to be that, as long as no pollution is caused through improper handling and storage, it will not adopt an over-zealous approach to enforcement. Although there is some anecdotal evidence from local authorities that in some areas this may not be being applied, the approach adopted by the Agency is likely to assist local authorities, rather than hinder them, in dealing with the large numbers of fridges requiring storage since the Regulation came in.

  The delay in clarifying whether the treatment of insulation foam would fall within the ODSR has had the unfortunate effect of meaning that the UK waste industry is insufficiently prepared and unable to provide capacity to deal with the treatment and disposal of the growing number of fridges being stockpiled by local authorities.

  At present, the only option appears to be one or two companies in the UK which operate high-temperature incineration plants, although it is understood that at least one contractor has, as an interim measure, developed export contracts to take fridges from the UK for treatment in Europe. Although this route may be capable of making only a relatively small contribution—given the limited capacity which is understood to exist in Europe to take overseas (ie UK) fridges—this nevertheless represents an option which some local authorities are understandably keen to explore. The Government is, of course, encouraging the treatment of UK fridges within the country. However, the delays referred to earlier are likely to mean that, realistically, the earliest that ODS recovery plants will come into operation would be this Summer. However, it is likely to be some time after that before the UK has sufficient capacity to deal with the backlog of fridges which is accumulating.

  It is considered that the delay in the production of final specifications for treatment plants is unfortunate, since this has frustrated the waste management industry's ability to develop suitable plant, and has similarly affected local authorities' ability to contract for the development of plant. In short, companies have been unwilling to commit without knowing what standards would have to be met. The other major factor affecting the development of capacity in the industry has been the lack of financial certainty in terms of the funding which local authorities will receive from Government, which understandably has meant that authorities have delayed entering into contractual arrangements. It is understood that the final draft treatment standards (which the Agency has been tasked with producing by DEFRA) are to be issued imminently by the Agency for consultation, with a view to their being in force by April 2002

  One further area requiring clarification from Government is regarding revised legislation for hazardous waste, arising from the Government's current review of the Special Waste Regulations. Advice issued by DEFRA to local authorities in October 2001 indicated that revised legislation was expected to come into force in Spring 2002. However, it is now understood that consultation from DEFRA on the implementation of the Hazardous Waste Regulations is expected sometime during the Spring, possibly by the end of March.

  The particular issue of concern to local authorities is regarding the status of domestic fridges—in particular whether there will be a distinction between fridges delivered by householders to specific amenity sites and those delivered to sites by commercial operators.

  It is anticipated that the implementation of the Hazardous Waste Regulations will mean some additional costs to local authorities. Most civic amenity sites are not licensed to take hazardous wastes, and will therefore require licence modification. Certificate of Technical Competence (COTC) qualifications will also need upgrading.

  The LGA considers it imperative that Government learns the lessons of the developing fridge "crisis" and plans adequately for, and sufficiently well in advance of, the introduction of future European regulations, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive. A similar situation must not be allowed to occur again—adequate time has to be allowed for local authorities and the waste industry to implement the requirements of new regulations in a planned, professional fashion.

Local Government Association

25 February 2002

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