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

Correspondence from the Permanent Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to Dixons Group plc, 5 October 2001

  Thank you for your letter of 18 September, regarding new legislation that will affect the management of end-of-life white goods, in particular fridges and freezers.

  I and my colleagues in DEFRA do recognise that these new requirements have the potential to cause disruption to existing mechanisms for dealing with waste refrigeration equipment. I can assure you that DEFRA officials have invested a great deal of time and effort into understanding the complexities of these issues. We have been working hard to design control regimes that deliver European requirements and better environmental protection while minimising the burden placed on industry and local authorities.

  It might be helpful if I set out the background to some of the issues you raised.

  You are right in suggesting that waste electrical equipment will become hazardous waste next year. This is one of many changes that will result from the recent amendment of the European Hazardous Waste List. However, we do not intend to extend our hazardous waste controls (the Special Waste Regulations) to newly hazardous wastes until we have revised, more proportionate, measures in place. The new hazardous waste control system will reflect that fact that many everyday wastes produced by households will become hazardous. The new regulations, including the revised hazardous waste list, are likely to come into force in the summer of 2002. A second consultation paper, incorporating draft legislation will be issued within the next few weeks and I shall ensure that you receive a copy.

  The question of exemptions for hazardous waste storage and treatment facilities is slightly more complex. It is not directly related to the review of the Special Waste Regulations, although the UK is under pressure from the European Commission to tighten up legislation in this respect. Facilities for the recovery of hazardous waste can benefit from waste management licensing exemptions. However, any such exemptions need to be notified to the European Commission and agreed by other Member States. Furthermore, the exemption must set out general rules set out in the Hazardous Waste Directive regarding the types of facilities that can benefit and standards that must be met.

  The exemption used by many electrical retailers (exemption 28) has not been notified formally to the Commission, neither does it contain appropriate general rules. We are currently in the process of drafting robust amendments to exemption 28 that will hopefully satisfy the Commission. The British Retail Consortium has kindly agreed to assist in the design of the revised exemption, which will be specifically targeted at electrical goods. I understand that Dixons is represented on the BRC working group looking at this issue.

  Revised exemptions will hopefully be notified to the European Commission early in 2002. It is our intention that the current exemptions should stay in force until we have alternatives available. We do not expect that currently exempt premises will generally need full waste management licences.

  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the question of the recent European Regulation on ozone depleting substances. As you stay, this Regulation will add significantly to the cost of disposing of end-of-life refrigeration equipment and new facilities will be necessary. Officials from this Department and DTI are working closely with stakeholders to devise a new waste collection and management systems with the aim of preserving the best elements of the existing infrastructure. Again, Dixons and other electrical retailers are closely involved in this process and your contribution is welcome.

  I am sure that you will appreciate that I cannot, at this stage, give you detailed answers to all the points that you raise. However, I can assure you that we share your sense of urgency and that we will keep you fully informed of and involved in developments.

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