Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
MONDAY 10 JUNE 2002
1. Good afternoon and welcome to the first evidence
session of our inquiry into hazardous waste disposal. Would you
be kind enough to introduce yourselves and your responsibilities.
(Ms Hackitt) My name is Judith Hackitt
and I am the Director General of the Chemical Industries Association.
I have been in post as Director General for just over two months
and was formerly Director of Responsible Care.
(Mr Rodger) I am Doug Rodger, Director of Responsible
Care and Health, Safety and Environmental Policy. Responsible
Care is the industry's voluntary programme for looking after the
things we do in relation to Health, Safety & Environment.
(Mr Hayward) I am Chairman of the Responsible Care
Board for the Association from a member company, the member company
being Thomas Swan & Company, and I am Director and General
Manager of that company, which is based in Consett in the North
2. Thank you very much for coming and thank
you for your written evidence. This is the first of our sessions,
and most of us are learning about hazardous waste and the complexities
involved. I was very struck by a sentence in paragraph 5 of your
evidence in which you say, "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." It sounds like a recipe for chaos.
Would you expand by way of introduction into this area and tell
us what prompted you to make what is quite a powerful statement
of almost disarray in the area of government and European policy
making in this very important area.
(Ms Hackitt) Perhaps I can provide a brief description
of the industry and put ourselves into context. We, the Chemical
Industries Association, represent close to 200 member companies
in the UK who between them have close to 400 manufacturing sites,
many of whom will generate waste as a result of their manufacturing
processes. However, whilst we generate both hazardous and non-hazardous
waste as part of our manufacturing processes, when you look at
that in the context of the total generation of industrial waste
in the UK, we represent some 6 per cent of the total industrial
waste and 12 per cent of the hazardous waste. So whilst the problems
that we are describing here today for the chemical industry are
our immediate concern, in our view, this uncertainty and the level
of unknowns affects much more of industry than just the chemical
industry. As we get closer and closer to deadlinesand I
will ask my colleague Mr Rodger to go into detail about this in
a momentour member companies do not have answers to the
questions they have in order to plan for the future, the next
three to four years, and even the next month, as we will hear,
on what will happen to waste streams that they currently produce,
because they are still waiting for guidance to be published by
the government department so that the regulators and the waste
disposal contractors can issue us, their customers, with definitive
advice and instruction on what they will or will not be able to
take. This is a problem of deadlines looming and no firm answers
to questions people have in order to be able to satisfactorily
plan their business activities.
(Mr Rodger) Our major concerns are the uncertainties
that have been occasioned by the UK implementation of the EU Landfill
Directive. The major uncertainty is whether there will be enough
treatment and disposal capacity over the next few years to deal
with the hazardous waste produced by UK companies. As background
to this, bear in mind that waste management in this area is a
commercial activity, so I am quite confident that, subject to
the important caveat of the planning system in the UK, in the
fullness of time market forces will prevail, supply and demand
will balance, and disposal capacity will balance supply. We are
concerned that these market forces might not work too well over
the next few years because of all the uncertainties. There are
three major uncertainties here. First of all, how much landfill
capacity is there going to be? The reason for that uncertainty
is that the implementation of the Directive tightens up the conditions
under which landfills can be operated. Operators of landfill sites
will have to make decisions very shortly as to what kind of sites
they want to have. No-one knows what the outcome of those decisions
will be. All the indications are that there will be a sharp reduction
in the number of landfill sites for disposing of hazardous waste.
The second major uncertainty is what is going to happen to all
the waste that is displaced from landfill, the waste which, because
of the implementation of the Directive, is banned from going to
landfill. We are talking about substantial quantities which are
going to be diverted from landfill and it is not immediately clear
how they are going to be dealt with. The third uncertainty is
the amount of hazardous waste that is going to be produced. Of
course, industry makes efforts to reduce its waste, but there
are re-classifications going on at the moment, and our information
is that 600,000 tonnes of extra waste is going to be classed as
hazardous as a result. To put that 600,000 tonnes into context,
it is not far short of the total that we as an industry produce.
3. Can you just put a couple of things into
context for me? In terms of the Landfill Directive, the changes
have been known for some time. Who in government has been consulting
with you about this? How have you been involved in that process?
Have you done it strictly Association to UK Government, or have
you done it both to the UK Government and to the Commission? How
have you been involved in the loop? Can you give us a feel about
the timetable of activities between Directive moving along to
ultimate agreement, and this position which you describe where
there is a lot of discussion going on in the UK about implementation,
which has left you facing the questions which you have summarised
so far for us.
(Ms Hackitt) I will ask Mr Rodger to answer the question
in relation to policy and Mr Hayward will give you a very good
example of how that plays out in his particular company's case.
(Mr Rodger) At one level, the EU process is comparatively
straightforward and manageable. There is usually a reasonable
amount of time for all the prior discussion that goes on, then
the Directive, then two years for implementation. That is the
usual timescale, and that seems reasonable on the face of it.
The problem in this case is that the Directive only tells us so
much, and to back up the Directive, almost in all cases, you need
some technical guidance, some more detailed information. The Commission
was due to produce that a year ago, but it is not yet available.
The England and Wales regulations are only just in place, but
even they do not tell you very much in terms of how the regime
should be operated. There is still a lack of guidance as to how
it is actually going to work. It is because of that lack of detailed
technical guidance that the waste management industry is not able
with confidence to make investment decisions. They are waiting
for clarification before they can move. We are hard up against
the first of the deadlines, which is July this year, when things
start to happen. So on the face of it, the timetable probably
did not look ridiculous when the Directive was passed, but we
are still waiting for the detailed guidance to help us make sure
it works properly.
(Mr Hayward) I have two particular waste streams where
I have known that this was likely to become an issue ever since
the Landfill Directive was first mooted.
4. What does Swan & Co do?
(Mr Hayward) We are a small to medium sized enterprise,
a family-owned concern. We make a variety of speciality products
for incorporation in a range of things from inks, tyres, coatings,
rubber goods of all sorts, medical devices, disinfectantsa
whole variety of things across a number of markets. We export
70 per cent of all that we make. We are very typical of the kind
of company that has a variety of waste streams arising from a
variety of different industrial processes to make a very broad
range of products. Try as we might, chemistry does not work as
neatly as we would like, and there is inevitably a waste stream
associated with just about any production. That is unfortunately
a fact of nature that we cannot yet get around. As I say, there
were two particular waste streams that we became concerned with,
and for the last two years we have been trying to get some degree
of certainty from the disposal market, the waste contractors,
as to what would be likely to happen, how we would handle iteither
ourselves or jointlyand as to how we could therefore continue
to make the products available to the market. It is only three
months ago that one of the more proactive companies came forward
and said that they would provide us an outline plan. None of the
other waste disposers have come forward with any indication yet,
and here we are within a month of the tightening of the regime
and the beginnings of the likelihood of those waste streams not
being able to be disposed of.
5. Have you as an Association made representations
to government about these concerns, and if so, to which department?
(Ms Hackitt) Yes. We have been in dialogue with DEFRA
for some considerable time now, and in fact, we have written to
DEFRA since the beginning of this year to propose the formation
of an industrial waste forum, because we recognise that this is
an issue that affects more than just the industry; the producers
of the waste, the disposers of the waste, and indeed the regulators
are all caught in this deadline box. It is a problem we share
and where we feel it would make sense for us all to get together
and talk about industrial waste per se, because it is a
very different issue from the broader issue of municipal waste,
for the reasons outlined by my colleague in the sense that it
is a commercial issue in the long term.
6. How long ago did you put that proposal to
(Ms Hackitt) The proposal for the industrial waste
forum we put to DEFRA in March of this year.
7. Have you had a response yet?
(Ms Hackitt) We have had one meeting with the Minister,
where that proposal was received positively, but there has yet
to be any formal indication that that forum will be set up.
8. Is DEFRA the only government department with
a finger in this particular pie?
(Ms Hackitt) That is the department which is in control
of it, as far as we are concerned. Certainly as far as the industry
sector is concerned, we have made our concerns known to the Department
of Trade & Industry, to our sponsoring department there too.
9. The Government have got the PIU involved
in a study into this whole question of waste disposal and hazardous
waste. What are your expectations as to the outcome of that? Are
you making representations to them, and if so, what are you saying
(Ms Hackitt) All of the information that we have provided
to DEFRA we have also copied to the PIU, so they are aware of
this. We have provided it to them for information at this stage.
10. One of the things that concerns me, looking
at this picture you are painting of a lack of forward planning,
is are we heading for a chaotic situation where, because of this
lack of definition and the timetable looming, we will end up with
piles of chemicals here, there and everywhere, and people saying,
"What do we do with them? How do we dispose of them? What
is the guidance?" Is that too exaggerated a position or not?
(Ms Hackitt) Until we have answers, that is a fear
that we have. That is where our concern about these uncertainties
comes from. Undoubtedly there may be some solutions that pull
us back from that, but in the worst case, yes, we will be facing
situations where companies will have to make decisions about what
to do with their hazardous waste in the interval, and one of the
possible solutions of that is to continue to store it.
11. On the industrial site?
(Ms Hackitt) Yes, but what you can be confident of
in this particular industry is that we will handle it responsibly
and within the law, but in the more general picture, one does
have to have concerns about whether there will be a proliferation
of illegal disposal in some other parts of the industry.
12. One of the things you mentioned earlier
was this question of the classification of the sites, and the
lack of clarity will obviously make it difficult for people to
take decisions as to what classification their landfill site ought
to have. Can you talk us through this? I would like you to explain
one point that is bothering me, as to whether landfill site operators
in your judgement will have to make an either/or decision. Will
they, for example, be able to divide up big sites to do different,
(Mr Rodger) In answering this, Chairman, you have
to recognise that we are not experts in the operation of landfill
sites, so you may want to ask the same question of others who
are more expert, but our understanding is that, although in theory
you can operate a divided site, in practice most of the them will
be one way or the other. The decision will be driven by a question
as to whether the revenues will meet the costs of the engineering
that is necessary, and quite rightly, to properly run the landfill
site, and any financial guarantees you have to make about after-care
of the site, etc. It will largely be a black and white decision.
There may be room somewhere for a mixed site, but I do not think
they will be too common. In terms of the answer to the last question,
our understanding is that there are 200,000 producers of hazardous
waste on a regular basis, which gives you an idea of the numbers
13. Why do you think it is that there has been
all this delay? There are some pretty nasty substances out there
which need to be responsibly disposed of. You have had quite a
long period of time in which you could see the problem coming
down the track. Why is it that, with the implementation of a piece
of European legislation into UK law, we seem to be running behind
the ideal timetable and we have all these uncertainties? What
is your analysis of how the situation has come about?
(Mr Rodger) One other thing that you need to be aware
of, Chairman, is that most of the other member states of the European
Union do not have the same level of dependence on landfill as
the UK. The UK traditionally relies to a much heavier extent on
landfill as opposed to incineration, which is quite common in
other member states. The demands of the Landfill Directive are
much less of an issue for them in terms of changing their infrastructure
to deal with it. The question is, with hindsight, should the UK
have realised that this might take a bit longer and sought more
time to introduce the requirements of the Landfill Directive?
I have to say, when we as an Association first discussed UK implementation
with our members well over a year ago, we decided not to challenge
the timetable; we decided that we should concentrate on informing
our members and encouraging them to meet the timetable, but as
time has gone on, we are beginning to wonder if we made a mistake
in that decision.
14. No wonder you all look so depressed! Tell
me as a layman whether you are happy with the process of consultation
within Europe and in this country when a new Directive has been
formulated? Is the industry sufficiently consulted?
(Mr Rodger) To be honest, it varies from Directive
to Directive and it varies from department to department within
government. Very often it is a question of personalities. In general,
industry is consulted, yes. There is usually some attempt made
to take the views of industry while the Directive terms are being
negotiated, but it is quite often the case that the UK views are
in a minority in terms of the discussions at member state level.
That is a fact of life. What does not always happenand
this may be an area for improvementis more input from the
regulatory bodies like the Environment Agency, who are going to
have to implement the Directive, in this case once it is in place,
so that they can keep an eye on what the practical problems might
be of dealing with it on a day-to-day basis.
15. That is a British problem rather than a
(Mr Rodger) I would say so in this particular case
because of the historical reliance on landfill.
16. In terms of what you were saying earlier
about the need for detailed guidance, whose fault is that?
(Mr Rodger) In this case it was Commission guidance
we have been looking for. The draft of that is only starting to
emerge now. The UK in one or two places has tried to put forward
UK guidance to fill the gap, but frankly, they are not in a position
to give guidance of good enough quality to enable people to take
decisions on it. We need the Commission guidance to be sure of
what we can do.
17. So that is a falling between the stools
problem. You mentioned the problem of landfill here as opposed
to incineration there. Is waste disposal, hazardous and otherwise,
a greater cost on industry in this country than it is in other
European countries? We have a bigger chemical industry and we
have a small, rather overcrowded set of islands as opposed to
having the space of France or Germany.
(Mr Rodger) To be frank, at the moment, it is the
reverse. Our information suggests that waste disposal costs in
the UK are lower. A large part of that may be the fact that landfill
is cheaper than incineration in general terms, and we are more
heavily reliant on landfill than incineration, so there is a mix
coming into the equation.
18. So generally, this is a process of bringing
our standards, and therefore cost levels, up to European ones.
(Ms Hackitt) That is true in part, but the problem
we are describing is one of a capacity squeeze, because other
countries in Europe have taken decisions years ago to invest in
incineration and other disposal routes that we in the UK, for
a variety of reasons, have not done. We have continued to rely
on landfill to a much greater extent as those other countries
have diversified into other means of waste disposal, and therefore
the capacity squeeze on this particular issue is particularly
acute for the UK. It is the capacity issue that we are concerned
about more than the cost issue.
19. And also the timing. If you bring in incineration
now, you will face more public opposition, it seems to methis
is a hot political issue, certainly in my areathan in countries
where it is already established and accepted.
(Mr Rodger) Absolutely, and even if we decided now
that we needed more incineration capacity to solve this problem,
when would we get it on line?