Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
MONDAY 10 JUNE 2002
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 contaminatedshould 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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.