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

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  When I appeared before your Committee on Monday 1 July, I promised to write with further details on two issues. Firstly on whether we have any further details on a possible short-fall in disposal options for hazardous waste after 16 July, and secondly providing my comments on the need for a national hazardous waste management plan as outlined in the Environment Agency's memorandum to the Sub-Committee.

  As I made clear in my evidence, we do not foresee any shortfall in capacity for disposing of hazardous waste from the middle of this month. The Landfill Directive requires that operators classify their sites as hazardous or non-hazardous by 16 July. Co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste can continue in hazardous waste landfill sites until July 2004. Until site operators have submitted their plans we will be unable to say for sure what the total capacity will be, however our discussions with the waste management industry have indicated that there will be sufficient capacity to dispose of hazardous waste until at least July 2004.

  The provision of alternative technologies or processes are commercial decisions and, given the highly competitive nature of this market, the companies involved are reluctant to share their plans with anyone. As a result of this reluctance, my Department has been unsuccessful in obtaining further information over and above that which it has already given to the Sub-Committee in its original memorandum. DEFRA and the Environment Agency will continue to work with industry to identify any future capacity shortfall.

  You also asked me to consider the Environment Agency's evidence to the Sub-Committee and the need for a national hazardous waste management plan.

  The Agency's evidence says "A national hazardous waste management plan is needed to ensure an adequate national network of hazardous waste facilities are available . . . Together with a national plan for hazardous waste management, the Agency would like to see Government proposals for hazardous waste reduction as a development of the strategy."

  The UK, as required by the Waste Framework Directive, already has National Waste Strategies for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and regional Waste Management Plans for Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. These are supplemented by the Environment Agency Strategic Waste Management Assessments (for England and Wales), the Scottish EPA Waste Data digests, the Wastes Arisings Survey for Northern Ireland and Planning guidance. These cover all waste areas, including hazardous waste.

  I have doubts about the usefulness of Government compiling a UK hazardous waste plan which prescribes the number, type and preferred location of treatment facilities required in the UK by 2004. Even if such a plan were to be produced it would not act as a driver to private investment in such plant.

  Targets for the reduction in quantities of hazardous waste are covered in Waste Review 2002. However, it is important to note that implementation of the EU Hazardous Waste Directive will lead to a significant increase in the quantity of hazardous waste produced, as more waste streams will then be classified as hazardous. Until we have accurate figures on the new waste streams on which to establish baselines, it will be meaningless to establish new targets. However it will be an important task to undertake once the new UK hazardous waste regime comes into force and the Environment Agency have collated data on the actual wastes produced.

  I note that most parties giving evidence in this inquiry have indicated support for a national plan or strategy of some kind, however there seems to be no agreement as to what this plan should achieve, who it is aimed at or who should produce it. A summary of the views as I understand them are given below:

    —  CIA: An industrial waste strategy produced by an industrial waste forum.

    —  Shanks: A framework for the management of hazardous waste focussing on the producer and prohibiting environmentally unacceptable treatment methods.

    —  LGA: A national plan produced by the Environment Agency and regional plans on a local level.

    —  ESA: A strategy covering at least the next decade and connecting chemicals policy, producer responsibility and waste management regulation—produced in partnership with Government, Regulators, industry etc.

  I accept the need for better dialogue between Government, Regulators, local authorities, the waste management industry and waste producers, and fully support the proposal for a hazardous waste forum. I have asked my officials to set this in motion. I foresee one of the tasks of this forum to explore the UK's needs in terms of hazardous waste disposal. However, I do not want this to become just another "talking-shop" with endless discussions and no outcome. All stakeholders must be prepared to enter discussions fully and openly, to provide data and input on facilities and future plans, to ensure that all concerns may be addressed.

Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP, Minister of State (Environment)

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

17 July 2002

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