A CASE STUDYPONTYPOOL
The House of Commons Select Committee on the
Environment last looked at the subject of hazardous waste in the
late eighties under the chairmanship of Sir Hugh Rossi*. Amongst
the many issues studied was the issue of hazardous waste imports.
The committee rightly distinguished between imports for disposal
in, say, landfill and imports for destruction by, for example,
incineration. The conclusion was that imports for landfill were
essentially imports of pollution which were not only undesirable
in their own right but risked displacing wastes of UK origin in
a limited capacity scenario. By contrast imports for destruction,
where efficiencies are high (greater than 99.99995 per cent in
the case of incineration), were not only deemed good economic
activity for UK plc but also an environmental benefit. Here the
committee reasoned that proper destruction in this country was
better than poor disposal abroad as pollution is not a respecter
of national boundaries.
In the early nineties, encouraged by this reasoning
and under threat of closure by the then regulator (HMIP) Shanks
invested substantially in a new state of the art rotary kiln incinerator
replacing the existing plant on the Pontypool site. Shortly afterwards,
despite the above logic together with protestations from the company,
the Government changed the law largely to forbid imports for incineration
which, at the time, accounted for some 50 per cent of revenues.
Meanwhile the same and subsequent administrations allowed a wide
variety of hazardous wastes of UK origin to go to landfill when
in most other North European states similar wastes were forbidden
from landfill and therefore incinerated.
The only possible conclusion that can be drawn
is that the UK legislative/regulatory regime is good at ensuring
that these facilities are to the requisite high standards but
poor at ensuring their use. The result of this weakness is that
the Pontypool plant has now ceased operation, as the resultant
financial losses can no longer be sustained. The ability of the
UK to treat its own wastes is now therefore threatened. There
are other such examples of hazardous waste processing capacity
being decommissioned in the UK as these high quality facilities
cannot compete economically with the landfill regime for hazardous
waste allowed by the UK authorities.