Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
MONDAY 1 JULY 2002
MP, MS SUE
300. So in three and a half weeks' time when
we should be starting our recess. In the meantime your department
and the Environment Agency have been giving advice and guidance
to the industry.
(Mr Meacher) We have.
301. And that is in anticipation of what would
be the acceptance criteria issued by the Commission later this
month. The Committee has received evidence that the lack of certainty
has led to some problems with the private sector waste disposal
companies making investment decisions to set up the necessary
plants, a little bit in the same way as other people did around
the disposal of fridges. Do you accept that that has caused a
problem and have you any plans as a department to give the technical
guidance issue by the Environment Agency statutory status in order
give greater certainty to the industry making investment decisions?
(Mr Meacher) I do think there is a similarity, I agree
with you, between the fridges case and the waste acceptance criteria
but it is not quite the same. In the case of fridges it was, "Is
this included or is it not?", one would have thought quite
a simple, straightforward question, but we all know it took a
fearful long time to answer it. In this case we are talking about
a series of considerations of what should be included, what can
go to hazardous landfill and what cannot. It is not just one single
question but a number. I entirely agree that it is the delay in
providing a clear answer to the question, whatever that answer
is, which makes it very difficult for industry to have the confidence
to make expensive investment in new facilities that may be required.
If we are going to engage in this legislationand let me
make it clear that I think this legislation is desirable; I think
we have to make major changes in the form of disposal if they
are going to be environmentally sustainableit should be
done within prompt timescales giving industry proper time to make
adjustments. The problem is not that the Environment Agency's
technical advice may not be statutory. It would not help if we
said that they had the statutory power. The question is the construction
of that advice on the basis of authoritative information agreed
by the Commission with all the 15 Member States in the EU. Once
we have that then there is no problem about the Environment Agency
giving advice which the waste management industry would accept.
There has been a raft of technical guidance from the Environment
Agency on engineering requirements, on site classification, on
the conditioning plans which are necessary, and we have certainly
been extremely active in meetings that we have organised in order
to make the industry fully aware of the implications of what is
coming but we have not been able finally to give the certain and
unequivocal details of exactly what will be required in all cases.
302. At this stage, keeping our fingers crossed,
we will get a clear position emerging on the 24 July. Is your
department working now, in anticipation of that clear decision,
both with the Commission and with the Environment Agency to ensure
that the waste disposal industry here in the UK can move very
quickly once that clear guidance is there?
(Mr Meacher) Absolutely.
303. So that eventually we can do something
to catch up from being one of the worst countries within the EU
in terms of the amount of landfill we use to become ahead of the
(Mr Meacher) It is certainly true of course that we
have already taken extensive action with industry to prepare them.
We are certainly of course not waiting until the vote on 23 July
and saying, "Now we can fire the starting gun". That
is only the final form of authorisation. We have of course been
discussing with the waste management industry that on the assumption
that these are going to be the waste management criteria are they
able to provide the hazardous landfill which is required to meet
these regulations. Obviously, we have had extensive discussions
about that and the waste management industry has assured us that
there will be sufficient landfill capacity to dispose of hazardous
waste at least until July 2004. The issue between July 2004 and
July 2005 is a separate one. Maybe we will come to that, but they
have assured us that there should be, will be, sufficient capacity.
We have done research which we commissioned and which concluded
that there were sufficient alternative disposal systems either
in use or planned to cope with the large volume of organic waste
streams diverted from landfill. I think in the evidence we refer
to these: pyrolysis or gasification; there are merchant treatment
plants offering free treatment, greater company use of spare capacity
in aerobic or anaerobic systems; there is high temperature incineration,
existing landfill leachate plant which can certainly treat a wider
range of aqueous organic waste. I mention these simply to indicate
that the department has been involved in detail in preparation
of all of these alternatives and alerting the industry to the
necessity to use these to the full.
304. So are you confident at the moment that
the UK will be able to comply with the timetable for implementation
of these regulations?
(Mr Meacher) That is the assurance which we have received
from the waste management industry and I have no reason to doubt
305. I have two issues to raise, Minister, first
dealing with those hazardous wastes to be banned from landfill
later this month and those that will not be banned. With regard
to the first category, in the department's evidence to this Committee,
paragraph 36, the department says, "There are sufficient
alternative disposal systems in use or planned to cope with organic
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
306. They go on to say that additional facilities
might be required for oily waste, contaminated soils and organic
chemical wastes. We have two weeks to go. What will be in your
view the shortfall in available operational facilities?
(Mr Meacher) You are quite right that the research
did indicate that additional facilities might be required for
precisely those waste streams which you have indicated. Of course
we have discussed this with the industry. We have included details
of the bans in both the consultation papers we have issued. The
first was in October 2000, a year and a half ago, and the second
was in August 2001, both of those, of course, were circulated
widely. We have had frequent meetings with both the waste management
industry and the waste producers. We have encouraged the waste
industry to liaise directly with their customers, those people
who are seeking disposal sites. We have spoken, also, at a series
of seminars and workshops and conferences up and down the country.
As I have said already, the Environment Agency has issued a raft
of guidance on the implementation of the bans. I am not sure there
is anything more that we can do but we believe we have alerted
the industry, all sectors of the industry, to what is required
and I believe that will be sufficient and that there will be the
landfill sites available as needed.
307. And other facilities, plant, etc?
(Mr Meacher) If you are asking what estimate I make
of the shortfall, what I am saying, really, in detail is that
I do not believe there will be a shortfall. If we have information
in the Department more recently or in more detail I have indicated
then I will rapidly let the Committee know, and I will write back
hopefully this week. My belief is that we have done all the steps
necessary to ensure that landfill sites will be available for
all waste streams.
308. But it is for others to obtain planning
consent and all sorts of other steps which are needed to invest
(Mr Meacher) Of course.
309. It is for those others that Government
gives the guidance?
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
310. I was asking you if you had assessed if
there would be a shortfall. These are hazardous wastes and if
they have not got a home, or a home they should have, then it
is clearly a matter of concern. Of course the point of my question
was with regard to the first category.
(Mr Meacher) My answer was that we have alerted industry
in the light of this research to the possibility of a shortfall
in order that they are able to rectify it before the time, in
fact of 16 July, just a fortnight's time. We have done what we
can to alert industry to the need for investment or to find alternative
forms of disposal which will meet those particular waste streams.
311. If they have not done that job sufficiently,
what are the consequences?
(Mr Meacher) If one draws up regulations, and gives
people adequate time in order to meet those regulations, to tell
them exactly what is required, and to ensure that the full requirements
of implementation are fully known and they are not met, then in
the normal way there would be a prosecution for failing to meet
the regulations. Certainly I hope that is not going to be necessary.
312. Is the Department aware, for example, that
there have been a number of planing consents sought and granted
to address these requirements?
(Mr Meacher) I am sure there are. This is a matter
for the Environment Agency, of course, although planning consents,
in some circumstances, could be for the local authority as well.
I am sure that in the light of, as I say, badgering industry about
their requirements certainly they will have been making those
applications, as they should. The approval of them is a matter
for the relevant authorities not for me.
313. Turning to the second category referred
to in the Department's written evidence to this Committee, paragraph
33, it says "The capacity available for the landfilling of
hazardous waste that is not banned from landfill post 16 July
2002 remains unclear, despite the Department's efforts to clarify
the position." It goes on to say "The information is
commercially sensitive and it is therefore unlikely that a clear
picture will emerge until very close to the implementation date".
That strikes me as a situation that makes it extremely difficult
for people to plan in advance. It is rather unsatisfactory. If
the existing facilities are not sufficient for that category that
I am asking about now, what plans are in place to try and deal
(Mr Meacher) Of course I agree entirely, we are back
to the issue that the Waste Acceptance Criteria should be known
in sufficient time for industry to be able to plan to meet those
criteria. As I have said already, from 16 July of this yearjust
a fortnight's timehazardous waste can only go to hazardous
waste landfill sites, although there is this one exception, which
I think we have mentioned, of stable non reactive hazardous waste
which can still go to separate cells in non hazardous sites. With
that small exception, hazardous waste can only go to accepted
hazardous waste landfill sites. Now the decision, of course, by
landfill operators as to whether they are going to operate a hazardous
site or a non hazardous site is a matter for them. I agree with
you entirely that the lateness of the date in deciding a Waste
Acceptance Criteria means that information is being left until
the last moment. As I say, I repeat, when the waste management
industry says to us that they believe that certainly there will
be the landfill sites necessary for hazardous waste, at least
until July 2004, I do accept that and I do not think there will
be a problem but I understand the theoretical issue that you are
raising and, again, I do not believe that should not have happened.
If we had had the relevant information, the criteria at an earlier
stage, there would not have been this problem.
314. Hopefully it is only theoretical. We want
to be assured, but we are not, given the nature of these materials,
that it is not a practical problem and if it is we need some means
of assessing the volume for example. Are you saying these matters
really cannot be determined because it is in the hands of others
and largely the commercial world?
(Mr Meacher) It is. I repeatI am really going
over the same groundthe Waste Acceptance Criteria set down
the criteria by which landfill sites will be classified. It is
then for the landfill operators to decide for themselves, not
for Government to tell them of course, whether they are going
to operate a hazardous waste landfill or a non hazardous landfill.
They will say, quite properly, that they cannot make a final decision
on that until they have a final authoritative version of the Waste
Acceptance Criteria and that is not until 23 July. I think it
should have been a year ago, then this problem would not have
happened. There is no way that I can, as it were, make a contingency
plan. I suppose what we have done is make a contingency plan in
one sense, namely that we have explored this issue in depth with
the industry, alerted them to the issue and tried to ensure that
it will properly be met. I think I am right in saying there are
two and a half million tonnes of hazardous waste going into landfill
and something like I think 0.6 million tonnes will be banned in
future from landfill. That is with regard to the specific bans
and alternative routes have to be found for the disposal of those
particular wastes. I cannot add any further to it. I recognise
the problem you draw attention to. It is a valid issue. The problem
is that we have had the Waste Acceptance Criteria so very late.
315. Is it down to the Environment Agency to
monitor the situation and report on what is happening, whether
it is all working okay or whether it is areas that have not been
addressed, etc, etc?
(Mr Meacher) Of course. I really do not want any Members
of the Committee to think that this problem has dropped on us
from above and that we are completely unprepared. We are as well
conceivably prepared as we can be. I would insist that the UK
has done more in the face of this intractable problem, which is
not of our making, than any other Member State. Whether it is
Government, whether it is the Environment Agency or indeed our
own waste management industry, we have sought to tackle this problem
as best we can. I really do not believe we could have done more.
316. It remains to be seen what happens on the
(Mr Meacher) Absolutely.
Patrick Hall: Are we prepared.
317. Let me take you through, Minister, what
might happen on the ground because things are going to change
on 16 July when private sector operators make decisions about
whether landfill is hazardous or non hazardous.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
318. You must have done some work with the Department.
You have been talking to the private sector, you have told us,
several times. The number of landfill sites for hazardous waste
is clearly going to decline. What assessment have you made about
the number of hazardous landfill sites which might exist, say
(Mr Meacher) That is a good question and obviously
we are very interested in the answer to that question. There may
well be a presumption that most operators will opt for non hazardous
sites and there could, from July 2004, for that reason, be a shortfall.
That is much more of a problem than what I think is going to happen
in a fortnight's time in July 2002. But we do not know, I do not
know until they come forward with their plans as to how they propose
to run their site in future. We will be pressing for that information
as soon as possible. There is no question of leaving those issues
over as we get close to July 2004. We will want an answer much
319. Some of the landfill operators have said
to us by 2004, for example, there must just be a dozen hazardous
landfill sites. What is the Department's view on that? Does that
(Mr Meacher) I think that is pure conjecture. We will
know much more accurately in two weeks' time when the Environment
Agency is able, under the Directive, to require the landfill operators
to produce their site conditioning plans. On that basis we will
have a much clearer idea of the situation in 2004. Before the
end of this month we will be able to answer your question much