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

Annex 2


  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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 15 July 2002