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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 350)




  340. What will happen if the manufacturer in 2008 does not exist for a vehicle which, say, was bought now? You said you hope the manufacturer will take over the responsibility in 2008 so what happens if you buy a car today and by 2008 the manufacturer does not exist, he is not able to take over responsibility, he has gone out of business.
  (Mr Meacher) If the manufacturer has gone out of business we are then into the whole issue of orphaned equipment and a question of who takes responsibility. Now under the European Directive, the view is that it should be the responsibility of the producers where that manufacturer no longer exists.

  341. So the other producers would have to take over the orphaned cars?
  (Mr Meacher) The number of cases where manufacturers have gone out of existence in the automobile manufacturing industry are very, very few. What does happen is companies are taken over by other companies and they are swallowed up into large organisations. That liability would then go to a large organisation. We are talking only about small niche manufacturers, I think.

  342. We could have a long debate about that.
  (Mr Meacher) Right.

  343. Cars are one of my interests. I just want to ask you a couple of small points but I think important points of detail which caught my eye in your evidence. In paragraph 20 you talk about the UK Plan for the Exports and Imports of Waste, published in 1996, ". . . bans all exports of waste for disposal, as well as most imports." Then you continue by saying "Exceptions are made in the case of wastes from countries that cannot reasonably be expected to develop their own facilities for management of particular wastes, as well as imports from Portugal or Ireland for high temperature incineration".
  (Mr Meacher) Yes.

  344. Can you just clarify, does that mean to say Portugal and Ireland have not got high temperature incineration facilities and they send their material to the United Kingdom for processing, is that right?
  (Mr Meacher) I think that is correct.
  (Ms Ellis) Yes, it is.
  (Mr Meacher) The view I have taken on this is that we should press them hard for the development of their own facilities. I have had some considerable dialogue or correspondence with my opposite number in other states to ensure that happens. In the short term, where high temperature incineration is clearly appropriate for certain kinds of waste streams, I take the view that we should accept that we should not, as it were, be a dumping ground, we should insist that they take responsibility as soon as they reasonably can.

  345. The other odd little point which caught my eye was in paragraph 91 on the same subject. It says: "However, incinerators are seen by many African Governments as posing a range of problems and to date no African country has been willing to host a regional hazardous waste treatment facility". Given that the Prime Minister spent some time earlier this afternoon talking about international efforts to help Africa in many ways I was intrigued that as far as disposing of materials is concerned, this is one area where there perhaps needs to be some further work. I wonder if you could just illuminate and comment on that paragraph 91?
  (Mr Meacher) I think I would broadly agree with you. Africa as a continent is so dirt poor that the relative sophistication of high tech disposal, high temperature incineration or various other costly capital investments is simply not a priority and they will not do so at the present time.

  346. Let me now finally ask you, coming back to the domestic situation, when we were on our way to the waste treatment plant in Liverpool that we visited, our hosts pointed out to us, on the right hand side of the particular road we had gone down, a warehouse. They said "Did you see what had been dumped in there"? There was this old broken down warehouse with this great mountain of rumble, rubbish, you name it, it had been put in there. It illustrated an interesting paradox. We have been talking this afternoon about more sophisticated, environmentally sensitive ways of disposing of even more sharply defined waste that we are going to call hazardous in future and yet next door to a modern facility was a really prime example of the worst practice. Flytipping was too humble a term for this abuse of the environment in that particular area.
  (Mr Meacher) Yes.

  347. Again, whilst we were out, we heard of things like sham disposals where along with a certain liquid waste you might have dilution to try and disguise what is happening. If you are going to get the industry spending a lot of money on becoming even more sophisticated what corresponding action is going to be taken to deal with people who will try and circumnavigate what will inevitably become a rather more expensive route for proper disposal, in other words the cheats on the system? What is going to actually happen to beef up enforcement?
  (Mr Meacher) Certainly you correctly draw attention to real problems. I am afraid there will always be villains or offenders who try to evade the law, whatever we do. We do have to make it as difficult as possible for them. We have to try and catch them and we have to try and deter them when we penalise them if they are convicted. With regard to flytipping, that remains a real problem. We have a flytipping forum, it has all the stakeholders represented on it. The problem is, of course, catching them. Close circuit television is increasingly used but you cannot put close circuit television everywhere. If we are talking about farm lands they can cover a very substantial area, it is very difficult. Sometimes, and I would encourage this, examination of what is dumped can reveal the owner. If we do catch the owner the thing which then aggravates me is that the courts in my view understate the significance of the crime and give what is often a derisory sentence, in effect saying to the offender "Well it is going to cost you so little you might as well try it again". I think we have to try and change that. With regard to sham recovery, we have been looking at these exemptions from waste management licensing and there is no doubt that it does need to be tighter. We have been giving a lot of thought to that over this past year. I would hope that shortly I will be able to make a statement indicating a significantly tighter regime.

  348. I want to just go back to your sentence, I do not disagree with what you say about having to find and catch people but again we saw last week an example in this particular yard, a great pile of cans of solvents, of paint, where in fact they had identified the person concerned. The frightening thing was the individual concerned had got an old warehouse, filled it up with these solvents and old paint products and was busy trying to dispose of them in a wholly inappropriate manner but given that it was an area of domestic housing, if that thing had gone up, exploded or whatever because it was not in proper circumstances the results could have been utterly catastrophic. It does occur to me that there does need to be a real beefing up in this area of the way the law operates because these cowboy operators are a real threat, not just to the environment but to human life itself. If there is a pressure to go down that route, instead of the proper route, then I hope perhaps you might be having discussions with either your paymasters to ensure the Environment Agency can be appropriately equipped or indeed with the Home Office on the criminal law side because I think there is a real issue there.
  (Mr Meacher) Certainly I do not accept the Environment Agency is not adequately equipped to deal with it. Obviously I do not know the circumstances of this particular case. They seem very serious from what you have said. If you would like to provide me with details then I will ensure that the matter is fully investigated by the Environment Agency.

  349. They are. No, in fairness to them, they have done a superb job.
  (Mr Meacher) Right.

  350. The only reason we saw the fruits of their labour was because it happened to be at a waste transfer station awaiting evidential matters and final disposal. It brought home to the Committee when we saw it the risk factors involved if people try to circumnavigate the proper disposal of potentially very hazardous materials indeed. No criticism of the Environment Agency but it illustrated the sheer totality of the task with which they are engaged in trying to deal with people who do not want to play by the rules.
  (Mr Meacher) I think that is an entirely fair statement. It is a very fitting confirmation of the importance of having new and tighter rules on hazardous waste disposal which of course all of this is about. I do not think any of us disagree with the objectives but I do think the mechanisms by which it could be implemented could be done better.

  Chairman: On that note of harmony, Minister, thank you very much indeed for your kindness in coming and talking about this complex subject. We look forward to the further material that you have very kindly offered us. May I thank Mr Hewitt and Ms Ellis also for coming and contributing. Thank you very much, Minister.

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