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


Memorandum submitted by Cleanaway Limited


  Cleanaway is one of the largest waste management companies in the UK and is involved in the management of all categories of industrial, commercial, clinical and municipal waste, with the exception of radioactive waste. The company has a technical waste business dedicated to the management of hazardous waste, which is the largest and most profitable hazardous waste business in the UK today, with access to the widest range of facilities for recovering, recycling and disposal. We own and operate a number of hazardous waste facilities including solvent recovery plant, co-disposal landfill sites, a specialist PCB treatment facility, physico-chemical treatment facilities, bio-treatment plant and the UK's largest high-temperature incinerator representing two-thirds—70,000 tonnes of UK capacity.

  Cleanaway welcomes the establishment of this inquiry and is pleased that the Committee has recognised that policymaking should take proper account of the question of hazardous waste management. Cleanaway had previously asked the Committee to examine this area and is pleased that the Committee has recognised the concerns of industry.


  The reason that Cleanaway has been asking for an inquiry and why it is so timely, is that the hazardous waste management sector in the UK is in turmoil. For the past decade, governments of both persuasions have turned a blind eye to the needs of hazardous waste management. Now, however, a number of factors are combining to raise some serious questions for future UK policy. These include:

    —  What future is there for high-temperature incineration in the UK, and if it disappears, what will be the consequences for UK manufacturing industry?

    —  What effect will the banning of co-disposal have on landfilling hazardous waste?

    —  Will different treatment routes continue to be regulated to different environmental standards and on different regulatory bases?

  Whilst Cleanaway has a large business based on all aspects of hazardous waste management, this paper looks in most detail at the future of high temperature incineration(HTI), because this has traditionally been the major disposal route for the most toxic and reactive wastes. Some of these wastes, by-products of vital chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing processes, are extremely dangerous substances, for which there is no alternative to disposal by HTI. We see HTI as being critical to the UK remaining self-sufficient in waste management.


  The UK's HTI industry has been in steady decline for nearly a decade. As recently as 1999, there were four merchant (ie commercial, as opposed to in-house) HTI plants in the UK, operated by three companies, which had a combined capacity of more than 165,000 tonnes. Today, there are just two facilities remaining with a total capacity of 105,000 tonnes and there is a question mark over the medium to long-term viability of the sector. Indeed, there is already a strong possibility that the UK may be without HTI capacity for certain periods, since the two remaining plants are quite likely at some point to be on maintenance shutdown at the same time. Should either of the plants close permanently, or be mothballed, there would be a monopoly supplier, which is unlikely to be satisfactory to UK industry. It is highly unlikely that any operator would ever seek, or be able to obtain, planning permission for a new high-temperature incinerator due to high capital costs in a difficult market.

  Although HTI in the UK is a relatively small business, with turnover of less than £50 million, the two remaining facilities are key national assets supporting the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The UK chemical industry is the largest positive contributor to the UK balance of payments in the manufacturing sector-annual sales are £45 billion, supporting a £5 billion positive trade surplus. It represents over 10 per cent of total UK manufacturing. Proper disposal of waste residues produced by this sector is of vital importance if the sector is to thrive and prosper in the UK.

  Without an adequate network of facilities to treat hazardous waste, and especially the most toxic wastes, the UK will find itself in breach of EU and international legislation. EU Member States are required to become self-sufficient in waste disposal operations and should not export their waste for disposal elsewhere. The UK has consistently claimed, quite properly, that we are self-sufficient in waste management, but this position is now seriously threatened. Having had the embarrassment of seeing thousands of refrigerators leaving the UK for destruction in other EU countries, it cannot be desirable to envisage much more hazardous wastes leaving our shores to be managed by other countries.

  Cleanaway is not suggesting that the hazardous waste management industry be given any sort of commercial favouritism. We also recognise that hazardous waste is, by definition, potentially harmful to the environment and we support the "polluter pays" principle. However, what Government needs to recognise is that hazardous waste management is a highly specialised market. Most hazardous waste treatment plants are a national resource; they are needed by our industries to enable the UK to reduce harmful emissions and to comply with our international obligations.

  The hazardous waste management sector is also extremely vulnerable to regulatory intervention—or the lack of it. Unfortunately, perhaps, market forces alone would be unlikely to deliver sustainable solutions. What has happened over the past decade, however, is that the regulatory system and the lack of a national hazardous waste strategy has allowed waste to be directed towards cheap "fuel blending" options. Whilst benefiting some industry sectors through reduced costs, this has had an adverse environmental impact and contributed to the decline of HTI as a viable commercial operation. In effect, HTI has had the worst of all worlds since the early 1990s—tough market conditions, distorted by lopsided regulation favouring one disposal route rather than another. As a result, capacity has been rationalised to the point where the future existence of the sector is in doubt.


  Landfill Directive. This will have a significant impact on the disposal of hazardous waste in the UK, particularly those wastes that are currently being disposed of via co-disposal landfill. From July 2002, over 250,000 tonnes of liquid hazardous waste and wastes with certain properties will be banned from all landfill sites. From 2004, at the latest, all hazardous waste must be treated prior to being landfilled in a dedicated hazardous landfill site.

  There is as yet no clear indication how many companies will elect to operate hazardous waste landfills after 2004. There will certainly be a significant reduction in the availability of landfill for hazardous waste; this in turn will mean that there will be a shortfall in capacity for the treatment and disposal of materials from landfill, leaving the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors extremely vulnerable.

  It may be assumed that wastes that are to be banned from landfill could be incinerated (ie in HTI plant), but this is not necessarily the case. Most liquid wastes that are currently landfilled are aqueous (mainly water) based and cannot easily be incinerated without the use of support fuel. In the current legislative climate, in which most high calorific value hazardous waste is consigned to cement kilns, this would mean HTI plant purchasing fossil fuel in order to support combustion. Purchasing fuel would, in turn, increase costs making incineration prohibitively expensive for most waste producers.

  The waste management industry has been criticised by DEFRA officials for allegedly failing to plan new facilities in time for the implementation of the Directive. However, private companies cannot invest large sums of money without clarity of legislation and a clear indication of market size. At the date of writing, there are still a number of fundamental issues arising from the Landfill Directive which have not been resolved. We do not know what criteria waste will have to meet to be allowed into landfill, we do not know what level of treatment will be required and we do not even know the exact dates when parts of the Directive will come into effect. Government cannot leave the future of hazardous waste management to be determined by market forces and then bemoan the fact that businesses are cautious of investing before knowing whether there is a commercial case for it. Cleanaway's own experience has been that we were encouraged by government to build an HTI plant in the late 1980s, only for regulatory action to decimate the market in the early 1990s, some caution on our part in the early 2000s may be understandable.

  Waste Shipment Regulations. These Regulations have a direct effect on the HTI sector. The Regulations and the associated UK Plan mean that co-incinerators (cement kilns) can import high calorific wastes (CV) for "use as a fuel" but the HTI plants cannot. The inability to import high CV waste, coupled with the loss of UK business, has severely affected the mix of wastes available for incineration. In order to reach the high temperatures required by the Directive, HTI facilities need high CV wastes to prevent the facility having to purchase fossil fuel to maintain temperatures.

  Meanwhile, companies shipping waste out of the UK in the form of ODS in refrigerators are benefiting from a "fast track" approach that allows export to any EU Member State regardless of the licensing standards in that State.

  Diversion of Hazardous Waste to Cement Kilns. Cleanaway gave evidence to the then Environment Select Committee in 1994-95 (The Burning of Secondary Liquid Fuel in Cement Kilns) and again in 1996-97 (The Environmental Impact of Cement Manufacture).

  In the 1996-7 inquiry, the HTI industry set out very clearly that the industry was under threat and warned of plant closures. Oakdene Hollins, independent consultants, told the Committee that if the use of SLF continued and increased, one of the incinerator companies would go out of business.[1] The Committee concluded that:

    The high temperature incinerators provide an important environmental service in disposing of hazardous wastes which cannot be safely disposed of by any other route. We consider it important to safeguard the future of this industry and recommend that the Government, in consultation with its European partners and industry, draw up a list of:

    —  those wastes of lower calorific value, combustion of which in cement kilns is recognised as "disposal" rather than "recovery" according to criteria to be laid down by the Government in accordance with the United Kingdom Management Plan for Exports and Imports of Waste, and

    —  those particularly hazardous or difficult wastes for which the Best Practicable Environmental Option is disposal in a high temperature incinerator.

    The Agency should ensure that such wastes are excluded from SLF.

  We are very disappointed to report to the Committee that this important recommendation, despite frequent attempts to draw it to Ministers' and officials' attention, has not been acted upon. We believe that the Government and the Agency failed to take the very real concerns of the industry seriously. Since this Report two HTI plants have closed.

  IPPC Directive. This directive and associated regulations affects industry and waste managers. IPPC and strategy issues are driving producers to send waste for blending into a fuel because they can claim "recovery" of the waste. If the same waste is sent for HTI the producer cannot claim recovery and so receives a lower environmental compliance score. The increased demand for high calorific value wastes has caused a further lowering of the prices in the marketplace making HTI less economic.

  Incineration Directives. The impact of these directives mainly affects the HTI sector and companies with in-house incineration facilities. The requirements of the directives mean that all dedicated HTI facilities have to meet stringent operational and emission conditions and some in-house incinerators have been forced to close.

  The Regulatory and Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) of the implementation of the Proposed Waste Incineration Directive in the UK was conducted on behalf of the Government by Entec[2]. The study focused on the additional costs and benefits of implementing the proposed directive. The benefits of implementing the Directive were listed and showed significant reductions in UK emissions;[3] the saving of 51 early deaths and 97 hospital admissions; reductions in chronic health effects, which could be significant; reductions in adverse health effects directly due to NOx; and reductions in health effects due to dioxins and certain heavy metals (including cadmium and mercury). The report considered whether the requirements of the Directive could be regarded as reasonable or not for each sector. They concluded that the waste incineration sector should be made to comply, whereas for the cement kilns they could not decide whether it would be reasonable to ask them to invest in cleaner technology stating, "High compliance costs would be expected to meet the NOx emission limit value. This may affect cement companies' future waste burning plans."

  The HTI industry is complying fully with the Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive and is investing in equipment to ensure full compliance with the Waste Incineration Directive. It cannot, however, compete with an industry that is not required to meet the same standards.

  Planning Matters. The current planning system in the UK is unlikely to enable industry to deliver new hazardous waste treatment facilities within the required timescales. Obtaining planning permission for any waste facility is extremely time consuming and costly. Facilities for hazardous waste are, invariably, more difficult and are not welcomed by most planning committees.

  Waste Electrical and Electronic Waste Directive (WEEE). This legislation will present a major new challenge to the waste management industry, Local Authorities and regulators alike. Considerable new infrastructure investment will be required but, as with the Landfill Directive, industry cannot be expected to make major investment unless there is clarity from the legislature as to the UK's interpretation of the Directive when it is agreed. Furthermore, as TVs, computer monitors and fluorescent lighting are to be classified as "hazardous" under the revision of the Special Waste Regulations there will be a significant increase in the number of sites producing hazardous waste.

  Exemptions from hazardous waste regulation. The continued exemption for agricultural and household waste from classification as hazardous increases the ability of these sectors to pollute and reduces the opportunities for recycling. The Waste Strategy 2000 recycling targets for municipal waste may not be met if the hazardous components of the waste are not first removed.

Why we need a Hazardous Waste Strategy

  Waste Strategy 2000 sets out clear targets and concentrates principally on the management of municipal waste. The UK needs a similar, specific Hazardous Waste Strategy to set out how we intend to manage these difficult wastes in the future. Without such a strategy the UK may find itself without adequate treatment capacity for the safe management of the most difficult wastes. The strategy should contain:

    —  Good, clear data from the Environment Agency to enable industry to plan and build plant. Currently the only hazardous waste data available from the Agency is for 1998-9. Later figures are available but the Agency refuses to publish them.

    —  Recognition that DEFRA needs to make early decisions about how it intends to implement EU legislation. Implementation of the Landfill Directive is late, revision of the Special Waste Regulations is late and implementation of the European Waste Catalogue is unclear.

    —  Clarity of decision and enforcement is vital to ensure that if businesses invest in plant and equipment waste will not be allowed to be moved to less environmentally sound processes.

    —  DEFRA's view on which wastes are suitable for blending down for "use as a fuel" and how they can stop the current practice of "solution by dilution". Many EU Member States direct specific wastes to certain facilities to ensure proper management of the most hazardous wastes.

  To be effective the strategy must link across all Government departments and be supported by industry. Without a robust strategy, the UK will not be able to treat all the hazardous waste produced and will cease to be self sufficient in waste management.

  The strategy must cover all potentially hazardous materials including clinical waste. To date clinical waste appears to be under-regulated. Hazardous clinical waste is still being disposed of in facilities which do not meet the standards set in the Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive. In some areas of the country, the management of clinical waste falls short of acceptable practice.


  From Cleanaway's perspective, as the largest operator in the hazardous waste management sector in the UK, any strategy should include the following elements:

    —  The establishment of a clear and realistic timetable for the implementation of all new legislation affecting the management of hazardous waste, this should be established in consultation with industry (waste producers and managers)

    —  Implementation of the 1997 Select Committee recommendation to identify certain types of waste as suitable for consignment either to HTI or to co-incineration (cement kilns)

    —  Award of "Recovery" status to high CV waste consigned to HTI (as already occurs in the case of co-incineration), removing the perverse incentive for waste producers to choose a more environmentally damaging option for waste disposal

    —  Equal regulatory treatment of HTI and co-incineration in respect of the Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive, both on fair competition and environmental grounds

    —  A statement as to whether the anomalies in the exemptions for agriculture and household waste is sustainable UK policy

    —  A clear statement of policy to the effect that HTI is likely to be needed for the foreseeable future as part of a diverse, sustainable, self-sufficient and environmentally responsible hazardous waste management strategy for the UK; and that in order to sustain such a strategy no disposal route will be advantaged over another.

    Cleanaway Ltd

16 May 2002

1   Environment Committee Third Report, Summary and conclusions pp 25. Back

2   DETR Regulatory and Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed Waste Incineration Directive-Final Report. Back

3   Executive Summary pages vii and x. Back

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