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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 299)



  280. Let me move to one specific activity which your department is involving itself with under the Special Waste Regulation which is this change in terms of the term we have used up to now, "special waste", with the term "hazardous waste". When will this special waste regime review actually be concluded and can you give the Committee a flavour of what you think the outcomes will be?
  (Mr Meacher) As I am sure you know, Chairman, the reason for the review of the special waste regime is in order to implement the changes which have been required by the Commission's Hazardous Waste List which is defined as 94/904. That has been recently changed. A large number of additional waste streams, as many as 200, will now be classified as hazardous waste. As a consequence of course we in the UK will, as will other Member States, have to change our own list. We have already had a consultation paper on this. We will be issuing a second consultation paper shortly and we would expect to lay the revised regulations around the end of this year or possibly early 2003 with the expectation that they will come into force in the summer or autumn of next year.

  281. Does Ms Ellis or Mr Hewitt represent your interests at all in Brussels with the detailed negotiations?
  (Mr Meacher) They can answer that, but the basic principle is, as with all directives and regulations, that they are in close touch with colleagues from UKREP but it is UKREP of course, which is based in Brussels, which does need to be properly briefed in detail, which will then conduct many of the negotiations with Commission officials.

  282. I am interested, if they wanted to express a view, in how they found other Member States at official level viewing this process which the Minister has just described, whether they pull their hair out as much as perhaps we are doing, although they look pretty well toned in that department. Would you care to make a comment?
  (Mr Hewitt) Perhaps on the Landfill Directive, which is really my only area of European negotiation, the TAC has gone about its business rather more slowly than we would wish. It is probably true to say that we tore our hair out rather more than some others did because after all we are amongst those countries who landfill most waste and it becomes a much more difficult and important issue for us to resolve. That is one of the reasons why we have been pushing at it. But of course we are only one of 15 in the end. It is a bit like a convoy. You end up going to some extent at the speed of the slowest rather than at the speed of the quickest.

  283. What about the Commission's ability to deal with this? Are you happy that they are technically competent and aware of what they are unleashing on everybody or is it a bit of a voyage of discovery for them?
  (Mr Hewitt) I would not want to comment on their technical competence, not least as I am not a techie myself. The circumstances between the Landfill Directive, for example, and fridges are rather different. They recognised, as I understand it, at the time they agreed the Landfill Directive that what they were doing was putting to one side for some further work an area that was actually rather horribly complicated, because it required some technical people from across Europe to be going at the issue and coming to an accommodation and an agreement on it, so I think the circumstances were rather different and it was perhaps a fairly sensible model to adopt. What on the face of it was slightly odd was that they agreed the directive before that work was concluded and so it then took rather a long time getting to the end of that work, so in those terms the process is distinctly odd and that was the thing that struck me when I first came to my role now, but no, it is not a silly thing to do, to ask the technical people to go at a very difficult problem.

Mr Mitchell

  284. Do I take it from the previous answer that the Commission in Europe decides what is and what is not hazardous waste? We are not our own masters in this?
  (Mr Meacher) This is of course a technical matter and it will be technical advice received from the Technical Advisory Committee—

  285. In Europe?
  (Mr Meacher) In Europe, yes, on which there will be representatives, I assume, from all Member States.

  286. Does that go right down to the definition? I see from the Local Government evidence that edible oils and fly ash—I am not sure what fly ash is—are defined as hazardous waste. Is there a distinction there between edible oils and fly ash chucked out by the average household (I chuck out great buckets of olive oil because we are not having that foreign muck in our household and fly ash must be produced by domestic fires), that is, domestic production of those hazardous wastes, and industrial production of them?
  (Mr Meacher) In the case of fly ash of course, that does contain certain very dangerous substances, namely dioxins, which come out of the incinerator stacks. Edible oils are a different matter. I do not know why they are regarded as hazardous. With regard to your question about domestic hazardous waste, it is currently excluded from the Hazardous Waste Directive and also from our Special Waste Regulations. However, some household wastes may be classified as hazardous if they are separately collected, for example, at a civic amenity site, depending what they are. If we are now talking, as we are, about computer monitors, television screens, fluorescent lighting, and they were assembled in large numbers at civic amenity sites that could under the directive be regarded as a hazardous site.

  287. That cannot be right. You are saying if it is separately collected it can be defined as hazardous but, if it is not, it is not. Is that right?
  (Mr Meacher) Sorry; could you repeat that?

  288. If it is separately collected you can define some household waste as hazardous waste, but if there is no arrangement in the local authority for separate collection then what was hazardous waste in those authorities is not hazardous waste in the authorities that do not collect it.
  (Mr Meacher) If it is in single items dealt with by re-use, recovery, dismantling, then it is not going to be put on a site in quantities which need to be regarded as hazardous waste.

  Mr Mitchell: No, but if I have got a broken neon tube and I just shove it in the dustbin and nobody knows, what happens then?


  289. Along with a bucket load of olive oil.
  (Mr Meacher) It certainly is not hazardous waste.
  (Ms Ellis) There is a slight complication there with the Hazardous Waste Directive and it is something that has been introduced in the amendments that we have been looking at. I think that the local authorities referred to it before. If you are a householders with a TV set, for example, if you drop it into your wheelie bin and it is collected as part of your municipal rubbish, then it is not considered to be hazardous. However, if you get the local authority to collect it as part of a separate collection, which they often do for bulky items, or indeed if the householder takes it to the CA site himself in the back of his car and delivers it, it is hazardous waste. That is something that is defined by the directive.
  (Mr Meacher) The logic of that is, I accept, slightly puzzling.

  290. What about climate change, though, if Joe Soap turns up with the TV and is told that it is not wanted here and neither is edible oil? Is there a chance that that sort of absurdity can be resolved?
  (Ms Ellis) We are going to need to talk to the local authorities about it. As they have mentioned, there is a possibility that we need to look at it with them, maybe using exemptions to licensing arrangements or other arrangements to ensure that the householder or anybody else who ends up with a TV set does not have practical problems in getting rid of it and indeed that the local authorities do not have an unnecessary burden either.

Mr Mitchell

  291. I only asked that question to have a little fun. To go on to the question I was supposed to ask, why have the Government not set targets for a reduction in hazardous waste production in the Waste Strategy 2000? After all, we have set targets for everything else from teenage pregnancies to smoking plot, so why did we not set targets for hazardous waste production?
  (Mr Meacher) There are targets for reduction of all forms of waste as an attempt under the waste strategy to reduce the growth of arisings and to promote recycling, re-use, recovery, and that applies to hazardous substances as well as non-hazardous substances.

  292. They were not in the Waste Strategy 2000?
  (Mr Meacher) Yes.

  293. They were?
  (Mr Meacher) Yes.

  294. How are you going to get such reductions?
  (Mr Meacher) In exactly the same way as all the reductions are to be got. We have set targets which require a doubling of the level of recycling and recovery for all local authorities (and that covers the whole of the country, and this is domestic waste, of course,) within three years by 2003-04, and a trebling within five years, by 2005-06, and that includes hazardous waste.

Mr Lepper

  295. Minister, we have already talked about the delays in reaching a point where the Member States can vote on the waste acceptance criteria. We know when that is going to be now. Next comes the question of implementing those criteria. In the written evidence that we have received from the department, paragraph 44, DEFRA says, "the UK has argued that given the delay in agreeing the criteria and the fact that we will need to develop infrastructure to treat waste to meet the criteria or dispose of waste that can't meet the criteria, we should be given a realistic timescale for transposing and implementing the criteria." What, in the judgement of DEFRA, from July 23 onwards would be a realistic timescale?
  (Mr Meacher) The Commission has now agreed a transition period to bring the waste acceptance criteria into effect up to July 2005 and we are in discussion with the industry as to whether that does constitute a sufficient timescale.

  296. And that consultation is under way at the moment?
  (Mr Meacher) Yes.

  297. How flexible do you feel the Commission would be, assuming the consultation leads to the industry saying, "We do need longer than that if we are going to invest in the infrastructure that is needed"? Are there signs of flexibility there?
  (Mr Meacher) As I said, the Commission certainly accepts that the production of the waste acceptance criteria has taken a great deal longer than they originally anticipated. Their original view was that it would be ready by July 2001 and, as has already been said, it is still not completed although it should be completed this month. Of course, if we were to argue for a period longer than the 2005 which has been offered, we would have to get agreement with other Member States, which is the usual form of negotiation. We want to find our industry view. It seems to me that a three year period is probably reasonable but if we had a very different view then we would argue for it strongly and of course we would lobby other Member States as well.

  298. You have mentioned other Member States. Is the view emerging that other Member States do feel that 2005 is a reasonable timescale or are others more advanced?
  (Mr Meacher) It is certainly true that we are behind other Member States in some degree because of our over-reliance traditionally on landfill. The fact that 80 to 85 per cent of the household waste stream goes to landfill means it is significantly higher than, perhaps the highest, amongst other Member States. Having said that and, given that other Member States have a much higher level of recycling and recovery already than we do, it is true that the Landfill Directive has not yet been fully implemented in many other countries, not just the southern states but also some of the northern states—in Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Greece, Italy and Finland, so we are not by any means alone.

Mr Borrow

  299. You mentioned the delays in the Commission's waste acceptance criteria and that it is likely to be concluded some time next month.
  (Mr Meacher) Later this month. We are on 1 July.

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