Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
MONDAY 17 JUNE 2002
180. So when you meet him, and you say, "Where
is the national plan?" does he say, "In the drawer,"
or how far are we on with this national plan?
(Mr Lee) We have had a meeting with Michael Meacher,
and the Chemical Industries Association and the waste management
trade association, Environment Services Association, to share
understanding of how big and urgent an issue this is, and to follow
up a proposal, originally from the Environment Agency, that we
should have some form of hazardous waste management seminar. A
subsequent proposal came from the Chemical Industries Association,
that it would be a good idea if there was not just a one off,
or a series of events, but was a formal forum. Those discussions
have been going on since the beginning of this year; and, indeed,
the Environment Agency has been standing up as often as possible,
as long as it can get people to listen to it, saying things like,
"Don't be dazzled by the biodegradable waste targets under
the Landfill Directive, it's the hazardous waste targets that
are really much more dramatic." So this thinking and this
preparation has been going on for some considerable time. We have
had that preparatory meeting with the Minister, with the question
to him, would he like to set up this hazardous waste management
forum, and the Environment Agency fully supports it.
181. So you are going to have a seminar, you
are going to have a forum, you are going to have a series of discussions;
but I want to see a plan, I think it is important we have a plan,
and I think we ought to have a plan quick. And where is the plan,
how far on are we with getting it; is there some kind of framework
(Mr Lee) I do not think DEFRA could lay claim to having
made any start on the planning process; but, of course, we have
been working with CIA, with the waste management industry, trying
to identify things like what their concept of final storage quality
is, what types and quantities of hazardous waste have we got and
how it could be managed, and whether or not the bans in July 2002
would actually be a strategic problem. So that discussion has
started, but not picked up yet by DEFRA for turning into a hazardous
182. And when do we need this plan?
(Mr Lee) I would like to have had it today.
183. When will we get the plan?
(Mr Lee) I do not know that I can answer that.
184. Could you hazard a guess at how far in
the future we have to be before, if we have not got that plan
by then, that is it, no point any longer?
(Dr Leinster) I think we have to avoid that situation.
One of the things that is happening, and is happening quickly
now, is that we are beginning to get the information together
to enable us to inform this plan, we are getting the criteria
together to help us inform the plan, and so the writing, or the
development, of that plan, now that we have got the information
together, could move forward with pace. And one of the things
that we will do is support DEFRA, in whatever way we can, to help
that planning process.
185. Could move forward, at a pace, if DEFRA
provides the kind of lead that Paddy Tipping was suggesting is
(Dr Leinster) Yes.
186. And it looks as if it will? Perhaps you
should not answer that, I do not know?
(Dr Leinster) Yes; it is difficult.
187. Can I just clarify one other thing, about
departmental responsibilities. I think we have clarified it, but,
so far as ministerial responsibilities, responsibilities within
the Civil Service, are concerned, everything resides with DEFRA,
we have not got any DTI input into all this, have we?
(Dr Leinster) There are planning issues.
188. Or the office of the Deputy Prime Minister?
(Dr Leinster) Which now sit with the office of the
Deputy Prime Minister; and also the producer responsibility Directives,
so End of Life Vehicles, Waste Electrical and Electronic goods,
and other producer responsibilities as they come in, will sit
with DTI. But the licensing aspects of those producer responsibility
Directives sit with DEFRA.
189. Do we know that those three Departments
of Government are getting together on this issue, particularly
in relation, insofar as it is necessary, towards the development
of the plan? Do we know that DEFRA, office of the Deputy Prime
Minister and DTI are talking to each other about it, so far as
(Dr Leinster) So far as we know, they are.
190. Can we press you a little further about
this, because, this week, we will produce, for the public benefit,
the report of our Sub-Committee on the disposal of fridges, and
that had a multi-departmental dimension to it; now we are dealing
with a multiplicity of changes in the way that hazardous wastes
are going to be dealt with, and we have just talked about the
fact that motorcars are involved, electrical equipment is involved,
a whole raft of industries are involved. Just to be absolutely
clear, can you tell us whether there is, or is not, a piece of
formal co-ordinating mechanism within Government to bring together
all the players who should be talking to each other about this
(Dr Leinster) We are not aware of one.
191. You are not aware of one. Are you consulted,
given that you are the repository of knowledge in these matters,
by any other Government Departments for information about this
(Dr Leinster) Yes, certainly. We have regular contacts
with DTI on the producer responsibilities; in fact, we have seconded
a person in to the DTI, to work particularly on End of Life Vehicles.
One of the other Departments which is also involved, it slipped
my mind, is the Treasury, on Landfill Tax, which will have a big
influence in this area. We also have dealings with Treasury, and
192. Let me ask you a slightly easier question.
Would you feel more comfortable if there were some formal co-ordinating
mechanism within Government to which you could contribute, that
was bringing together the strands and implications of the changes
in this area of environmental legislation?
(Dr Leinster) Yes, I think we would. As you have described,
there are so many tentacles to waste, and it is spread so wide
and in different ways, that I think it would be useful for a formal
193. What about your own Agency's resources
for all of this work; are you (a) satisfied you have enough money,
(b) "Well, we've got to accept what we've got but would like
some more," or (c) in dispute, privately and quietly, with
your paymaster on resource for this area? Which is it, (a), (b)
(Dr Leinster) Part of the funding that we get, within
the Agency, is raised from charges; so, when it comes to permitting
processes, we charge those that we regulate for the work that
we do. So, in one way, the more permits we have, and the increased
number of permits, will deliver us more money, which will then
deliver us more people. The question though, I believe, is one
of competence, and the level at which we can afford to pay and
keep skilled people within the Agency. Now I am not questioning
at all the competency of Agency employees, but we are a very good
training-ground for others then to come and take from us. So a
number of people join the Agency, get a good training, learn,
and then others are able to entice them away with higher salaries.
I think that if we were able to pay more for some of our regulators
then we would not have quite so many enticed away to other places.
194. Right. Well I think we have got the message
about that, and no doubt the people who report these matters will
say "Some good jobs and good training going here, but even
better opportunities round the corner." The reason I was
asking this is that DEFRA, in their written evidence, said that
the input of the Environment Agency is vital to the success of
virtually all of the measures discussed in this, meaning their
particular memorandum; but, having said that, we got a memorandum
from a company called Safety-Kleen, I thought it might be one
of those doorstep sales organisations, then I read it again and
realised it was a very substantial and important company in the
waste field. And I got the impression, for example, from paragraph
13 of their evidence, where they say: "The reality is that
the Environment Agency does not have the manpower to make regular
visits to producers, unless they are already required to visit
for waste licensing and IPPC purposes." And they are already
questioning whether you have got the people power to do the job
now and in the future?
(Dr Leinster) One of the things that we want to do
with the new Special Waste Regulations is to move from a system
whereby we were tracking consignment notes to one where we would
have a registration process, and waste producers would register
with us, they would then have a requirement on them to supply
us with quarterly updates of information to do with the amount
of material that they have produced in the period, and where they
have sent it. And what we would like to do, under that new regime,
is then spend more time in visiting particular producers, in auditing
and providing advice to them on minimisation. So I think that
the new Special Waste Regulations will provide an opportunity
to have a shift in the nature of our work.
195. Let me just move on now to another observation
from the same company I quoted from a moment ago, Safety-Kleen,
in paragraph 9 of their evidence to the Committee they said, and
I quote: "The Landfill Regulations are broadly a reflection
of the wording in the Directive. Many key issues are to be dealt
with in guidance, rather than in the Regulations themselves, in
particular, the meaning of treatment prior to landfilling."
And they go on to make a couple of comments, bearing in mind your
own earlier observations that guidance is guidance. They say:
"This places a burden on the Environment Agency that should
more appropriately be assumed by DEFRA as legislator. There is
an industry view that due to lack of resources in DEFRA many key
issues have been passed to the Environment Agency to handle rather
than work up more comprehensive regulations to deal with important
issues." Is that a problem that you recognise?
(Mr Lee) As I said earlier on, we have already identified
a number of important Government policy areas that need to be
clarified for us and for the industries that we regulate. As Safety-Kleen
have pointed out in their evidence, the Regulations themselves
are a fairly simple write-across from the Directive, which is
probably what we should anticipate more of in the future. That
means that there is a lot of interpretation, technical guidance
and policy that needs to be explained after the event of the Regulations,
and we are keen for DEFRA to use the opportunities available to
them to issue statutory guidance, to us and to the industries,
because that helps us know the rules to the game, and it helps,
frankly, to keep us all out of court; we could spend huge amounts
of time arguing with each other in court over issues that could,
and should, be made clear for us by Government. There are other
issues, which I think it is only fair and proper that the Environment
Agency should make clear through issue of its own technical guidance.
But, yes, I agree with you, there are issues that we would like
to see reflected in statutory guidance.
196. Can you just explain, for the benefit of
the Committee, the legal status of statutory guidance?
(Mr Lee) Statutory guidance is guidance to which the
various parties should have regard; that is not to say it is a
black and white rule, that if you step across this line you have
broken the rule and you will have committed an offence, but it
is guidance to which the parties should have had regard, in making
sure that they comply. Now that is much better than just Environment
Agency guidance, which actually has a very much lesser status.
197. Just looking to the future, we have talked
about resources and the retention issues of people power, but
can you just give the Committee a feel for what the implications
will be for the Environment Agency, as all of this change becomes
introduced. You were talking about your wish to go out and both
give advice and police what was going on; it is difficult for
me to get a clear picture as to whether this means more people
or a better use of the existing numbers of people that you have?
(Mr Lee) Yes, I think that is a good question. It
is a question of different types of people. At the moment, the
Environment Agency puts the majority of its hazardous waste effort
into monitoring the movements through the consignment note system
that I explained before the start of the session. A small amount
of our effort is put into sending field staff into hazardous waste
producers. Safety-Kleen assumed that we did very little, or none;
that is not true, but, obviously, we do not do anywhere near as
much as we would like to. We think it is at the hazardous waste
producer end of the chain of responsibility that perhaps we could
have the greatest impact. So, on moving into the new hazardous
waste regime, we anticipate there will be a much reduced administrative
job for the Environment Agency to do, which means that we would
be able to use our resources to send more valuable people out
to hazardous waste producer premises, check that they are registered
and complying, and then actually do other good work whilst we
are there, on the back of our regulatory work. That could include
identifying sources of future waste minimisation guidance, or
good practice, or identifying other businesses within the same
industry sector who are doing different things, or managing to
produce less hazardous waste. So there is quite a lot of good
best practice work that we can do, on the back of rather more
thoughtful visits to hazardous waste producers, rather than just
being an administrative spider in the middle of the data web.
198. You talked, earlier on, about the use of
your expertise to minimise future waste streams. I suppose my
first question is, industry, seeing that costs of disposal will
increase, that is probably the thing that will concentrate their
minds the most, and I guess good companies are already thinking
very actively in this way, are we spending enough, if you like,
from central resources on research to help that process; do you
have any research monies yourself, what work are you doing actually
to try to help achieve this reduction in waste streams, are there
ideas that you have where you say, "I wish people would only
use our idea, they could make x percent. reduction"? It may
be a bit crude in putting it that way; just give me a flavour
of how you are actually going to contribute to this process of
waste reduction in the future?
(Dr Leinster) There is already an organisation called
Envirowise, which is a joint-sponsored, DEFRA-DTI body, which
provides environmental advice, including on energy conservation,
waste minimisation, for industry, and what they are doing is going
through different sectors and identifying what waste minimisation
can be applied. Within the Agency, as well, we have produced guidance
on how to carry out a waste minimisation audit, how to look at
particular streams and then how to manage that waste minimisation
system through, and we have also run various waste minimisation
clubs. When you get to hazardous waste, depending on the sector
that we are talking about, it becomes more difficult, because
for a number of these wastes the types of waste streams which
will be produced will be dependent upon the chemical or other
production process which is in place, and, as you say, the best
people to identify how to minimise those wastes are the operators
of those facilities. What we can do is to assist within the process
of giving frameworks that you can use, tools that you can use,
to assist within an audit identification and then reduction plan.
One of the other things though that I believe we can play a part
in is in the spread of best practice, and that is, if we are visiting
many different sites, you then start picking up who is doing the
best. And one of the ways that we want to use the information
that we gather in the future is looking at particular sectors
and looking at the quantity of waste, for example, per unit product,
produced within a sector, and then see whether we can learn from
the one with the lowest waste produced per unit production, and
spread that learning to the other facilities and activities within
that same sector. So I think a lot of our work is going to be
on the spreading of best practice, rather than Agency people going
in and re-engineering processes. I would not see that the re-engineering
of processes was an Agency activity.
199. Is this an area for nationally-set targets
for the reduction of waste?
(Dr Leinster) As long as it is feasible; and one of
the things that we need to do as well within this is to look at
not only UK waste production from certain industries, but is to
look at best practice from across Europe. And one of the things
that we are involved in, through the Pollution Prevention Control
Regulations, and development of that, is the European Bureau which
is developing best available techniques within that European context,
and we have got a number of people who are seconded out to the
Seville Bureau, working on this. Through that process, you can
identify what the best in sector is able to deliver, and then
you can use that information as well to deliver that information
back into the UK. I think there is a role for targets, but you
need to decide which wastes you are going to target and what the
implications of those targets will be; but I think it has a role
that needs to be explored further.