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

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association (LGA)

  The Chairman of the Committee kindly indicated that it would be in order for the LGA to make further comments in writing, following our evidence to the Committee on Monday 4 March. I would like to expand on just two issues, in the interests of clarity.

  I was asked in the enquiry, to compare the performance of the UK with other European countries. We are not alone in our inability to process redundant fridges within our own boundaries, and I believe some countries are completely failing in their obligations to ensure ozone depleting substances are recovered. I made these points at the enquiry. However, one of the common factors amongst most complying EU states is their implementation of some form of producer responsibility legislation that effectively places the financial burden of compliance on the producer. The mechanics of the individual schemes vary but all ensure the costs of dismantling, recycling and disposal of fridges, either as a part of a wider obligation for electronic goods or as hazardous waste, is met by the producer and ultimately the consumer. The timing of EU producer responsibility is out of step with the ODS regulation so that the higher environmental standards are being applied without any equal EU legislation dictating where the costs should fall. The result is that in the UK, the financial and organisational buck has stopped with the only bodies who have any legal obligation to dispose of fridges: local authorities. Producer Responsibility in the UK is a little time off but until we have clearly defined legal accountabilities for the management and financing of the disposal of fridges, and for that matter abandoned cars, tyres, batteries etc, local authorities will continue to have to pick up the problem.

  The second point I would like to clarify is in relation to the proposed mechanisms to reintroduce retailer take back schemes. The simple fact is that take-back schemes were withdrawn because producers, retailers and/or their sub-contractors were unwilling or unable to fund their continuation. Local authorities have successfully managed the problems this has created and I see no reason why, given the will and the cash, the private sector could not have done likewise. Retailer take back schemes are the right way to deal with fridges. They do not involve any special journeys and consequent use of fossil fuels and resultant pollution. The units are handled respectfully by staff used to handling expensive equipment, not waste, and much less damage results. Consequently, more units will be suitable for refurbishment, and fewer disposed of. It is therefore crucial that we find a way to reintroduce them. Without producer responsibility, there is no obligation on the private sector or consumer in relation to fridges whatsoever. Funding for implementation of the ODS regulation therefore needs to be found from elsewhere but, it is understood that direct funding to the private sector from Government would not be possible. Any mechanism therefore needs to be via local government.

  The lead authority scheme being promoted by Dixons effectively allows take back schemes to be reintroduced because any redundant fridges not suitable for refurbishment would be delivered to the local authority for free disposal. The need for a lead authority is presumably to reduce the administration and concentrate resources. As I mentioned in my evidence, I do not see the attraction of this to any individual authority and the practicality is that lead authorities will predominantly be Waste Disposal Authorities or amalgamations of Unitary Authorities. The alternative proposal being discussed is to utilise the recycling credits scheme to obligate Waste Disposal Authorities to make a payment to anyone demonstrating that a fridge collected within its area has been recycled. Government could set the value of this payment at such a level as to make the economies of take back schemes more realistic. Both schemes would require significant improvements in record keeping and audit trails, but not beyond the normal requirements for anyone handling waste. I believe take back schemes have thus far been operating without regard to the Duty of Care in this respect and systems should be put in place to ensure there is reliable information on where a unit is collected from and where it goes to. The credits scheme could easily be withdrawn when Producer Responsibility starts to apply, and the value of credits varied to reflect changes in market conditions. Both options are being discussed in the Government round table meetings in which the LGA are actively involved.

  The principal benefit of the recycling credit scheme over a lead autority approach is that it does not promote an ideal that local authorities are the responsible organisations for implementing the ODS regulation and, more importantly, doesn't set a precedent for implementation of the WEEE directive. This is my strongest concern in relation to reintroduction of take back schemes. It is vital that we do not reinforce misplaced assumptions within industry and the retail sector that local authorities will meet their obligations for them. We are very willing to play our part and help, by utilising our infrastructure on a partnership basis, but Producer Responsibility should mean just that, not local authority liability.

  Local Government Association Waste and Environmental Management Executive.

14 March 2002

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