Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
MONDAY 17 JUNE 2002
140. Forgive me, I may just have missed it;
you quoted a figure, a moment ago, of, if you like, the before
and after effect of the number of producers. Could you just say
again what that was?
(Mr Lee) We think it will just about treble. There
are about 200,000 at the moment; we estimate that there could
be up to 600,000 caught under the new definition of "hazardous"
141. Gosh; and just refresh my memory on the
timescale that this net is finally going to close round this additional
(Mr Lee) Of course, that would depend on when Government
came forward with their new, revised Hazardous Waste Regulations;
there is a forthcoming consultation document. We would anticipate
that the new controls would come in during the calendar year 2003;
the exact time would depend on many factors, including the period
when the regulators and the waste management industry need, frankly,
to get their systems ready to cope with such a volume of business.
142. Is this uncertainty over timing going to
mean that there will be a neat, smooth introduction of the new
arrangements, or will it be lumpy and will it be expensive, and,
if so, how much?
(Mr Lee) You know that it would be very optimistic
for me to say that there will be a smooth transition from one
regime to another. One of the things that we want DEFRA to recognise,
in their timing of the introduction of the new regime, is for
a period where hazardous waste producers are given an opportunity,
or even required, to register before the changeover in the regime,
so we continue with the existing special waste regime for maybe
another quarter after the implementation of the Regulations, such
that we allow ourselves that dual running period, to make sure
that we do not go into the first day of the new regime and find
that we have got an absolute registration mountain to climb.
143. And are you going to adopt an approach
which does not end up with the United Kingdom being fingered as
overzealous, in terms of the implementation procedures, because
people will no doubt come back from other parts of the EU, saying,
"They haven't implemented it like we are; we're being treated
(Mr Lee) We do have a published "enforcement
of prosecution" policy; hopefully that not only makes clear
how the Environment Agency is going to react in given circumstances,
it should also make clear that the Environment Agency is not going
to be an unrealistically harsh regulator. We have to take cases
that meet the public interest test.
144. We had some evidence last week, or further
information from our witness last week, which gave the indication
that one of the things that happens, as you tighten up on control
regimes for hazardous waste, is that people produce less of it
and become more efficient and actually leave us a beneficial gain.
Do you think, in this case, that will happen?
(Dr Leinster) Yes, I do. I think that, certainly for
industrial producers of waste, if they see a cost associated with
their waste disposal activities then they will concentrate on
reducing their costs; so I think there will be a signal, and I
think industry will reduce the amount of hazardous waste produced.
So it will be a good thing.
145. Can we focus on landfill, for a moment,
and what is happening now and what is going to happen. I think
the UK is atypical, in that a large proportion of hazardous waste
goes to landfill just now. With the new Directive on that, what
do you think is going to happen?
(Mr Lee) You are right, that we have got a strong
reliance on landfill for hazardous waste disposal; just under
half of the hazardous waste we produce goes to landfill at the
moment. We predict quite a dramatic change in the hazardous waste
production and management market over the next two, four or maybe
five years. The most important changes in that programme are going
to be the banning of co-disposal, so-called, hazardous with non-hazardous
waste in the same landfill, which will happen in 2004, and the
introduction of the pre-treatment requirements for any hazardous
waste still going to landfill and the introduction of the waste
acceptance criteria. The introduction of the waste acceptance
criteria, that is a decision yet to be made by the Commission,
we expect them to make that decision public towards the end of
next month; the UK could choose to introduce the waste acceptance
criteria slightly earlier, but our current best guess is that
that would be in around 2005 or 2006. So somewhere between 2004
and around 2006 there will be quite a strong reduction in the
types and quantities of hazardous waste going to landfill. Now
if they are not going to landfill they are either going to have
to not be produced in the first place or made non-hazardous through
on-site treatment at the place where they are produced, or they
will have to go through some alternative treatment or disposal,
either on their way to landfill or for things like energy recovery.
So quite a big change-around in the market.
146. So let us go through that timetable a bit,
because there are some important milestones there; co-disposal
finishes 2004, and by 2008, in a sense, there has got to be a
final storage solution. Now tell me what is going to happen between
2004 and 2008, because disposal companies are going to be quite
anxious about operating under a regime during that period that
is far from certain?
(Mr Lee) We suspect, but we do not know, because it
depends on commercial decisions yet to be made by the operators,
that the number of hazardous waste landfill sites will fall sharply
in 2004, it is currently about 240, we guess, by mid 2002, that
number could have fallen to maybe 150; we suspect that after July
2004 the number could have collapsed to maybe fewer than two dozen.
So that will be the first big change. Those two dozen that decide
that they wish to continue to operate as hazardous waste landfills
will do so as "hazardous waste only" landfills, and
the wastes that they take will have to satisfy the requirement
to have been pre-treated, and they will have to satisfy the interim
waste acceptance criteria that we have made clear in our Regulatory
Guidance Note No.2. So those will be the controls that those "hazardous
waste only" site are operating under. We think that the waste
acceptance criteria, and possibly the broader pre-treatment requirement
date, will cut in before 2008; we do not know what the Commission
are going to say, if we did we would be publishing it, but we
suspect that they will be advocating a date of around 2005 or
2006 for the full waste acceptance criteria to cut in.
147. But these 24 sites could be anywhere in
the country; there is no strategic planning about where they are
going to be, is there?
(Mr Lee) That is correct; as I said, it is down to
commercial decisions to be made by the operators, they will read
the hazardous waste production market and make their decisions
148. You do not give any advice, DEFRA did not
give any advice on this?
(Mr Lee) I do not think it is for the Environment
Agency to dictate where these facilities should be.
149. But there is a public interest here, is
(Mr Lee) There is a clear public interest, and that
is one of the major reasons
150. So who is looking after the public interest?
(Mr Lee) That is why we advocate that there ought
to be some national overview, over the number, the type and the
distribution of hazardous waste facilities that we will need into
the future. Without that overview we are depending either on happenstance
or individual commercial decisions, and there is no guarantee
that we would end up with the type and distribution of sites that
151. So this is a DEFRA issue?
(Mr Lee) We think that that overview would have to
be a Government overview, because there then has to be some link
between a national strategy or a national plan, and the planning
system and the development control planning system that would
actually make those facilities available.
152. And in the 20 or 24 sites that may, or
may not, exist, what kinds of materials are going to go in there,
because all good people are going to say, I can read the headlines
now, "These are ticking time-bombs;" what is going to
go in there?
(Mr Lee) I can understand that the public might be
alarmed, but we have to remember that the materials going into
the hazardous waste landfills that are left will be fewer and
probably less hazardous than the hazardous materials that are
currently going to landfill; so the change is actually for the
benefit of all of us. You ask what sorts of materials. I think
there are probably some hazardous materials that lend themselves
less obviously to other forms of treatment, fibrous asbestos is
perhaps a good example, that we may well expect that to continue
to go to landfill after 2004.
153. But the move away from landfill is going
to require other disposal techniques; are they going to be ready
(Mr Lee) Again, that is not something that the Environment
Agency can guarantee; clearly, we hope and trust that they will
be, and two things could help the provision of that adequate network.
The first thing is some form of national plan, linked to the development
control planning system; and the second is an appropriate date
by which the waste acceptance criteria and pre-treatment requirements
cut in, such that that leaves the private sector, in particular,
long enough to react, to design, finance, give planning permission
for and actually commission the new facilities that we need.
154. You told us, a little while ago, about
these waste acceptance criteria, when you thought they might come
in. Just take me through that again; it is an EU agreement, but
it can be brought in at different dates by different Member States?
(Mr Lee) Yes. We are led to understand, but certainly
cannot guarantee it, that the Commission is likely to favour a
date of around 2005 or 2006; you can tell by the language I am
using that we are not in a position to be any more exact than
that, it depends on a decision to be made clear by the Commission
at the end of next month. I am also led to understand that, if
it wishes, the UK could introduce the waste acceptance criteria
early, through change to Regulations, probably to the Landfill
Regulations, which I think have just been issued.
155. What do you think is going to happen; because,
if I were an operator, I would be pretty confused about all this,
how am I going to make some investment decisions, I do not know
what I am doing?
(Mr Lee) I will tell you what I think is going to
happen, but I would stress that what does happen is going to have
to be a decision made by DEFRA, and I would urge very strongly
that that decision is made in the light of arguments from both
hazardous waste management producers and hazardous waste managers,
with input, of course, from the regulators. What do I think is
going to happen is probably much less important than what DEFRA
actually say is going to happen, eventually, but my guess is that
the full waste acceptance criteria could be applied to certain
types of facility earlier than others; for example, those sorts
of landfill sites who wish to continue to take hazardous waste
in a separate cell in a non-hazardous waste landfill. And then
the full waste acceptance criteria could, conceivably, come in
at other facilities, at a different date. But, I would have to
stress, that is just my guess as to what could happen, and it
is DEFRA's decision that matters.
156. But you advise DEFRA, do you not, you are
the watchdog, the powerful watchdog, that DEFRA takes a lot of
(Mr Lee) I would like to think that the Environment
Agency is one of the important voices that DEFRA will listen to.
I would be equally concerned if we were the only voice that DEFRA
157. What is the resource within DEFRA to come
to decisions like this?
(Mr Lee) We work well with DEFRA. They are a public
sector organisation, as we are, and, of course, we would call
for more resources for them, particularly legal advice, given
that a lot of what they need to decide and make public is through
regulations, or statutory guidance that needs to be published.
So, of course, yes, I would call for more resources for DEFRA
in general and, of course, I would call for more resources for
DEFRA on waste.
158. You talked about alternatives to landfill,
and the Government's Waste Strategy published in 2000 recognises
the importance of a network of high-temperature incinerators,
suitable for the disposal of hazardous organic wastes and other
wastes. Does less landfill mean more incinerators?
(Dr Leinster) Not necessarily. What we need to do
is, as Steve was explaining earlier, to have this national strategic
waste management plan; it is only on the basis of having the knowledge
of the types and quantities of the different wastes, of the various
options for treatment and disposal of those wastes, that you can
then make a value judgement as to what types of facilities are
required. So I think there is more analysis to be done before
you would necessarily say that you wanted more incinerators.
159. I think the Waste Incineration Directive
comes into force in December 2002?
(Dr Leinster) Yes.