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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. There is a large number of Directives and regulations trying to create a comprehensive framework, and this has been discussed for years, and the question of a clear definition of the terms "waste" and "product" has been argued about for a long time, but you say there is still no satisfactory definition of the point at which recovered waste becomes product. Can you explain that to me?
  (Mr Rodger) It is difficult without getting too technical to say much beyond what you have just said. The point at which a particular substance moves from being a product to being a waste is a grey area, but it is important.

  21. But then it becomes a product again. How does it do that?
  (Mr Rodger) That is right. The difficulty that we are referring to in our submission is the fact that when it moves from being a product into a waste, all of the waste regulations come to bear on it, and in some cases those stop you doing what is the sensible thing to do.

  22. Which is to make it into another product.
  (Mr Rodger) Yes. There are barriers in the way because it is classified as a waste. We have some examples. One of our companies up in Teeside makes a by-product, and debates are still going on with the Environment Agency as to whether it should be classed as a product or a waste. The difference is that if it is classed as a waste, its characteristics are such that there will be barriers as to how it can be used and how it can be disposed of, whereas if it is classed as a product, it could go quite happily down a different route.

  23. This is a product by product issue then.
  (Mr Rodger) Yes. We have another example of a company which has some spent acid. It has been through the process, it is a little contaminated—should it be a waste or is it a useful raw material? The company thinks it is a useful raw material and they should be able to send it to another company to be used, but if it is classed as a waste, which is the way the decision seems to be going, there are so many regulations and barriers put in place of them doing that, they are going to put it to landfill.


  24. Who actually makes the decision?
  (Mr Rodger) The piggy in the middle is very often the Environment Agency, and they have the Herculean task of trying to pick their way through these regulations in coming to the decisions they come to. As you said in asking the question, this situation has been the case for about 20 years. It is difficult to think about getting to the point where everyone will know everything in a black and white way. We need a bit of flexibility to stop us doing things that are actually perverse from the environmental point of view.

Mr Mitchell

  25. But you say it puts the UK at a competitive disadvantage. Why is that?
  (Mr Rodger) In some cases the continental regulators take a different view. Whether that is a matter of personalities or whether it is their local regulations I could not honestly tell you.

  26. It could be a question of the understanding by regulators of the needs of industry.
  (Mr Rodger) It is possible, but in our experience the Environment Agency is not too bad in recognising that sort of thing.

  27. It is important then to define the point at which it once again becomes a product.
  (Mr Rodger) It is important, so as to avoid things happening in a perverse way.

  28. I am still trying to grapple with why European companies can get away with what we cannot get away with.
  (Mr Rodger) Do not get me wrong. I am not trying to say that.

  29. You said in practice their arrangements were accepted by the regulators whereas ours might be questioned.
  (Mr Rodger) I gave you one example of a situation where an arrangement was acceptable to the regulator in another country where it was not acceptable to ours. They just came to a different decision.

  30. Do chemical industries in other countries not face the same problem?
  (Mr Rodger) I think they do. This is not a UK problem.

  31. But not on the same scale.
  (Mr Rodger) They may well be, in different ways. It is a problem that tends to come up in relation to specific waste streams in specific situations, and that is what drives the route you can take. Our concern is that it sometimes stops you doing what is the environmentally right thing to do.

  (Ms Hackitt) There will always be questions of interpretation but we fully recognise that at a detailed level, different regulators in different countries will make different decisions at the margins. The general problem is the same throughout Europe, but again, you come back to the point that in Europe there are more degrees of freedom for disposal than we have within the UK, which is where all of these problems come together. That is why we have proposed getting together and trying to thrash all these issues out in a multipartite group.

Paddy Tipping

  32. We are talking about regulators having different views in different EU countries. One of the things that characterises the EA in this country is that they are a strong regional organisation. Do you get consistent advice from the EA from each of the regions?
  (Mr Rodger) That would be perfection, to be honest. There is inevitably a degree of variation, and you would expect this in any organisation, frankly.
  (Mr Hayward) Quite honestly, the different circumstances in different areas have to be taken into account. So uniformity and homogeneity are not necessarily the same thing. Uniformity of approach but homogeneity of decision is not necessarily the same.

  33. Why should there be different decisions in different regions?
  (Mr Hayward) I would not necessarily expect, in view of the fact that the conditions in a particular local area are going to be different from a different local area, that the decisions about permitting would necessarily be identical in each of those circumstances. It has to take into account the local circumstances. Without that it becomes a meaningless tick in the box exercise.

  34. Would it depend on the topography of land?
  (Mr Hayward) It could be all sorts of things.

  35. But it would be better for you, as an Association, to have one point of reference with the EA to develop the protocols, to understand the process to begin with, although there may be some variation on a regional basis following that.
  (Mr Hayward) That is right. I think a consistent framework is important so that there is consistency of approach, consistency of methodology, but the outcome of application of that methodology may well result in different permit conditions.

  36. When you think the EA has got it wrong, because you have scientists working for you as well, and the EA still say, "No, we are not having that," what recourse is there? What can you do about this?
  (Ms Hackitt) Our experience would be that our relationship with the Environment Agency has improved significantly in recent years. It is a relatively new organisation compared to the Health & Safety Executive, for instance, where we have had dialogue over many more years. Our view would be that the Environment Agency is approachable, listens to our concerns, but I think one would have to reflect that an organisation as large as that, from the top, has quite a challenge in delivering that consistency of approach throughout the whole organisation. But certainly at the highest level, our view would be that the commitment is there to try to achieve that.

  37. Are timetables of decision making quick?
  (Ms Hackitt) I have no real issues with that.
  (Mr Rodger) I am sure we have statistics which show the response time. We could come up with examples from individual operators which had a problem, but there would be many others which have gone through reasonably well.

  38. Would you write to us with some examples?
  (Ms Hackitt) Yes.

  39. Mr Rodger earlier on told us that the amount of hazardous waste will increase substantially because more waste is going to be brought into the definition. That is going to make your problems worse rather than better, is it not, because you are fighting for limited disposal resources?
  (Mr Rodger) It will make the overall problem worse, yes. As I said, to put it in context, the quantities we have seen are not far short of the total that we already produce. So it is a significant proportion of the total, yes.

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