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

Memorandum submitted by the Chemical Industries Association (CIA)


  1.  The Chemical Industries Association welcomes the chance to comment on this important issue. Our general "credentials" are set out as footnotes at the conclusion of this submission.

  2.  We accept that waste disposal is at the bottom of the waste hierarchy and avoidance, reuse and recycling are preferable to disposal. It does not follow that disposal is always intrinsically bad or that the production of hazardous waste is something to be avoided at all costs. For many materials a landfill, or incinerator which is well designed and operated, will continue to be the best practicable environmental option (BPEO) and in many cases will contribute a positive benefit by helping to reinstate land that has been used for mineral extraction or fuel other processes. A number of essential chemical processes will inevitably produce hazardous waste—pharmaceutical production, for instance, and we must accept that the by-products of a modern society may inevitably include some difficult to handle wastes that are not straightforward to recycle or dispose of.

  3.  The chemical industry has already made large reductions in the amounts of waste sent for landfill for a number of reasons, including the improvement of overall performance under the industry's Responsible Care Programme and IP(P)C controls. It is common good practice in the industry to have waste management strategies. As a trade association, CIA has provided extensive briefing to our members on the implications of the Landfill Directive. To demonstrate our belief that a partnership approach is the preferred method of developing sensible solutions to the challenges ahead for waste management, we are shortly to hold a joint seminar with colleagues from the waste management sector and speakers from Government and the Environment Agency.


  4.  CIA has concerns regarding the management of all industrial waste, not just Hazardous Waste. We agree with the Committee that recent debate in this area has focused on municipal waste streams. More attention needs to be paid to the whole area of industrial waste management. The UK chemical industry produces around 2.1 million tonnes of waste per year, only 33 per cent of which is hazardous. 77 per cent of our waste is neither municipal, nor hazardous. We need industrial waste to be looked at as a whole so the non-hazardous fraction—the significant portion—does not get overlooked in any review of strategy.

  5.  In truth, our sector has more questions than answers with regard to the shape of industrial waste management in the short to medium-term as there are so many uncertainties in this policy area and many strands of waste policy are developing separately. As only one of many sectors producing industrial waste—hazardous and non-hazardous, we only have part of the picture. All waste producers are subject to the same regulatory uncertainties, particularly with regards to issues arising from implementation of the Landfill Directive. The waste management industry (landfill operators and recyclers etc) possess the most up to date information on landfill, testing and treatment availability and the Environment Agency has the most reliable data on waste arisings.

  6.  We recognise that UK waste producers have enjoyed the lowest gate charge for waste to landfill in Europe. There is one certainty for the near future—landfill costs will go up considerably for all waste streams. Our concerns over the implementation of the Landfill Directive revolve primarily around the lack of certainty, not the level of cost—certainty around available capacities for testing of waste, treatment and of final disposal outlets as well as certainty around future waste costs in order to make financial provision for waste management.

  7.  Our underlying message is that uncertainties in the area of waste policy make it difficult for waste producers to develop coherent medium to long-term strategies. Whilst this situation persists, it is difficult to envisage that, in the short-term at least, waste producers will truly be able to take responsibility for planning the final destination of their waste. In the meantime, our members' level of concern is increasing as deadlines approach.


  8.  There are a large number of European directives and regulations on waste that create a comprehensive legal framework for the management and disposal of waste. The debate seeking a clear definition of the terms "waste" and "product", however has been going on for years in Europe, including the UK. Yet there is still no satisfactory definition of the point at which recovered waste once more becomes a product. We also lack clear criteria to distinguish between activities carried out to recover waste and activities carried out to dispose of waste. This creates enormous barriers to waste producers wishing to recover, reuse or recycle waste or even operators merely wishing to manage their waste in the most sustainable way as often operators become caught by expensive and burdensome waste regulation that would not apply to similar substances defined as "product"—putting UK business at a competitive disadvantage and possibly making less environmentally sustainable disposal routes more attractive.

  9.  With regards to landfilling of waste, the Chemical Industry, and other waste producers, has been operating in a period of uncertainty with regard to waste management since the Landfill Directive was adopted in 1999. Regulations for England and Wales were laid down in both Houses for affirmative resolution on 2 April this year. There are presently no regulations for Scotland or Northern Ireland. Our comments on "the Regulations" that follow, therefore, refer to the legislation applicable to England and Wales only.

  10.  The first critical date in the Landfill Regulations is July this year when landfill operators must decide how to classify their sites—hazardous, non hazardous or inert. The next critical date is July 2004 when co-disposal (the disposal of hazardous and non hazardous waste in the same site) must cease. Landfill operators are, on the whole, undecided about how to classify their sites, or at least are not going public on their decisions. Until this classification becomes clear, it is impossible for anyone outside the waste management industry to know how much landfill capacity for each type of waste there will be.

  11.  Waste Acceptance Criteria for the various classes of landfill are being prepared in the Commission. This is very overdue. The UK regulations contain interim acceptance criteria but these lack the detail required by landfill operators on which to make investment decisions and decisions on site classification as these criteria drive landfill specification.

  12.  The Environment Agency has indicated that the number of hazardous waste landfills will be considerably less than at present after July 2002—with perhaps less than one tenth of the previous numbers of sites. There are currently about 300-350 hazardous waste landfill sites in the UK. It is unknown exactly how many sites will wish to take on the engineering requirements and liabilities for managing hazardous waste sites under the new regime—this information will begin to emerge after July this year though estimates range from less than 20 to as many as 300. The Agency believes that many existing sites will wish to close rather than take on the demands of the Landfill Directive. There is likely to be no hazardous waste landfill in Scotland at all.

  13.  These uncertainties may lead to considerable practical difficulties in liquid hazardous waste disposal from July this year and the ceasing the disposal of hazardous wastes to landfill from 2004. Pressures on landfill capacity and additional waste treatment requirements are likely to lead to a rapid escalation of disposal costs for waste producers, over a timeframe in which it would not be possible to develop innovative alternatives. Unscrupulous waste producers may be tempted to opt for illegal waste disposal options and law-abiding producers may be forced to store hazardous waste on site. In the worst case, the UK could have another "fridges scenario" whereby there is simply insufficient capacity for hazardous waste testing, treatment and disposal, because waste managers have not had the necessary framework within which to make the required investment to meet the challenges posed by the Directive.

  14.  There remains some uncertainty over the definition of "treatment" which in turn makes investment decisions for landfill operators difficult. Do they invest in new treatment facilities for liquid hazardous waste or will there be sufficient capacity for industrial waste if enough sites decide to go non-hazardous in July? We are advised by the Environment Agency that now the Landfill Regulations are laid, they will begin to publish technical guidance on such issues but with the requirement for treatment of 2004, this leaves very little time for investment in new facilities.

  15.  The present planning regime will be unable to deliver any new waste management infrastructure by 2004. Even if facilities were to be commissioned, the process from design to operation may take years if planning considerations are protracted. Applications for new waste facilities are generally contentious, particularly for hazardous waste facilities, adding a further opportunity for time delay in their provision.

  16.  More positively, we are pleased that the Government is reviewing the Special Waste Regulations as we agree that there is a need to harmonise definitions of waste with those presently used in Europe. The present distinction between "Special" and "Hazardous" waste is confusing, particularly for companies operating across Europe. This change will inevitably mean that some waste currently defined as "non-hazardous" may become "hazardous" under the new definition. This will add around 600,000 tonnes of waste to the "hazardous" category, according to a report carried out for the DETR by Babtie Consultants in July 2000.[1] This, again, points to the pressing need for the makes the provision of adequate hazardous landfill.

  17.  The most recent public consultation paper from the Government[2] outlines a number of options for charging for waste management regulation including charging on the basis of hazard of the waste. CIA is totally opposed to this, as we believe that charges for regulation should be proportional to the effort put in by the regulatory authority. Relating charges to environmental burden effectively transforms charging into an environmental tax. We would not support environmental taxes in the area of hazardous waste management, as they would achieve nothing that could not be achieved by effective regulation. Charging for waste management on the basis of hazard is unlikely to change production patterns of many hazardous waste streams as many such streams result from the production of essential commodities such as pharmaceuticals.


  18.  In order to ensure appropriate dialogue takes place between all stakeholders in the industrial waste management debate and solutions to the potential challenges ahead are explored, we propose that a Government-led Industrial Waste Forum be established. This initiative would be aimed at achieving a co-ordinated strategic approach to the full range of emerging policies and initiatives that will affect those with an interest in industrial waste management.

  19.  The proposed Forum could consider, amongst other issues, the challenges that lie ahead in matching industrial waste production with disposal capability; the need for waste treatment and disposal options, including incineration, to replace landfill and resolve some of the definitional problems affecting this policy field. Its output might be an Industrial Waste Strategy.

  20.  Such a forum would, in our view, require input from industrial waste producers in various sectors, waste management companies, the Environment Agency, relevant Government departments responsible for the UK Waste Strategy and the planning regime and other interested stakeholders. We know from informal discussions with a number of these stakeholders that they too would be supportive of our proposal.


  21.  Waste Production in the Chemical Industry: The Chemical Industry produces 2.1 million tonnes of waste per year, 33 per cent or 700,000 tonnes of which is Hazardous. The Environment Agency estimates that the chemical industry produces around 6 per cent of the UK's total waste arisings and around 12 per cent of the UK's Hazardous Waste Arisings.

  22.  Chemicals' Contribution to Society: Products of the chemical industry form the basis for every manufacturing activity. They are vital to transport, healthcare, food and drink, construction, textiles, IT—and indeed to all other sectors of the economy. It is impossible to divorce a successful and responsible chemical industry from the colourful, diverse, clean and safe environment and high standard of living that we have come to take for granted. In particular, the industry can proudly claim a major role in increasing human longevity and quality of life. Life expectancy at birth doubled in the 20th century. Not only can this be attributed to such recognisably chemically derived products as drugs and antibiotics, but improved water treatment, detergents and pesticides have all played their part.

  23.  Contribution to the British Economy: The chemical industry in the UK employs 239,000 highly skilled people nationwide, and accounts for 2 per cent of Gross Domestic Product and 11 per cent of manufacturing industry's gross value added. It invests £3 billion annually (plus £3.2 billion on Research and Development) and is our top manufacturing export earner, with an annual trade surplus of over £4 billion on a gross output of £48 billion. It also provides a tax and national insurance contribution of nearly £5 billion a year to the UK national government and local authorities.

  24.  The Chemical Industries Association: the CIA comprises 190 operating companies, based at over 300 manufacturing sites nationwide. It is the predominant trade association and employers' federation for the industry, and embraces all trade sectors, product types and business activities. Based in Westminster, the Association employs 67 staff headed by the Director General. The CIA's mission statement is:

    "To help members secure sustainable profitability and improve recognition of their contribution to society, by working with them to influence relevant people and policies and by stimulating and helping them towards appropriate internal action, singly or cooperatively".

Chemical Industries Association

May 2002

1   Babtie Group for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (2000) Implications of the Landfill Directive in the Disposal of Hazardous and Liquid Waste in the UK. Report Reference BPF 013874. Back

2   Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions "The Implementation of Council Directive 1999/31/EC on the Landfill of Waste"-Consultation Paper 19 October 2000. Back

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