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


Memorandum submitted by the Environmental Services Association (G9)


    —  ESA welcomed the establishment of DEFRA and the appointment of Margaret Beckett as the Secretary of State after the General Election in June 2001;

    —  furthermore, we welcomed the leadership displayed by the Secretary of State in convening the Waste Summit and announcing the Waste Study by the Performance and Innovation Unit;

    —  however, DEFRA's Aim and Objectives gave no priority to delivering the Government's National Waste Strategy, or to developing more sustainable waste and secondary resources management;

    —  ongoing delays—notwithstanding regular offers of assistance from ESA and our Members—in drafting the regulations implementing the Landfill Directive have resulted in ESA's Members and the Environment Agency operating in a regulatory vacuum;

    —  ESA believes that this is symptomatic of the UK's poor record in implementing EU legislation relevant to the industry we represent;

    —  ESA believes that some of DEFRA's difficulties are self-inflicted and that the Environmental Protection Group in DEFRA is under-resourced at a critical time in delivering the various national and international obligations on waste and the environment.


  1.  ESA is the sectoral trade association representing the UK's managers of waste and secondary resources. Our industry accounts for 0.5 per cent GDP and would, if HMG created the right framework, be investing up to £1 billion annually in infrastructure for the indefinite future to enable the UK to comply with the EU Landfill Directive and other relevant EU law.

  2.  ESA wants to build the industry's future not on rising quantities of waste but on managing more waste as a resource by returning more of the materials and energy contained therein back to the productive economy. To ensure compliance with the UK's existing legal duties, ESA's Members are willing to invest very substantially in infrastructure. This would help to convert waste management into resource management, thereby contributing towards the UK's Sustainable Development Strategy and a more resource efficient economy.

  3.  ESA was encouraged by the words of the Prime Minister at the CBI/Green Alliance conference in 2000, when he said he wished "to push green issues back up the political agenda . . . and do it in constructive partnership [with] government and business." He also outlined the "need to use environmental resources more efficiently and to become a low-carbon, recycling economy." ESA immediately—and publicly—supported this vision.

  4.  Furthermore, the PIU report, Resource productivity: making more with less, identified waste policy as the next biggest environmental challenge facing the UK after climate change. The generation and disposal of waste is closely linked to resource productivity. Recycling, composting and energy recovery displace the use of finite primary resources and are alternatives to landfill as a means of managing waste.

  5.  As DEFRA is the lead Department in delivering the Sustainable Development Strategy, it is essential that the sustainable management of waste is given due profile within the new Department. This can only be achieved by ensuring full funding (which does not necessarily mean public funding) of the National Waste Strategies to ensure their delivery and the timely and effective implementation of EU legislation governing waste management.


  6.  Historically, waste has never had a focus within the Government which properly reflects the UK's role as a leading Member of the EU or as a Country with ambitions to be a global player in environmental services. Until the appointment of the current Secretary of State, there had been too much unhelpful posturing rather than genuinely concerted effort to deliver more sustainable management of wastes. ESA had hoped that the publication of Waste Strategy 2000, in May 2000 by the then DETR, would lead to the step change necessary to enable the UK to extract more of the material and energy contained in waste. However, ESA has since been exasperated by the paucity of achievement of deed relating to a strategy which was long on aspiration.

  7.  The creation of the DEFRA after the General Election in June 2001 appeared to provide a greater focus within the Government for environmental issues, and ESA welcomed the appointment of The Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP as Secretary of State.

  8.  The new Secretary of State signalled her intentions when speaking to the Green Alliance/ERM conference in October 2001. As well as the announcement of the Waste Summit and the Performance and Innovation Unit's study into waste strategy, ESA was particularly encouraged by the Secretary of State's realism in identifying the need for an integrated strategy for managing waste, and her acknowledgement that the Government's leadership is an essential component of delivering greater sustainability. The key driver for the evolution of the industry represented by ESA is, after all, regulation.


  9.  ESA believed that DEFRA's Aim and Objectives did not have the correct balance between the different functions of the new Department.

  10.  In September 2001, ESA responded to the consultation on DEFRA's draft Aim and Objectives. We agreed with some of what was contained in the document, but our response expressed disappointment and a feeling of déja" vu. Given the imperatives of EU law and our industry's critical role during the Foot & Mouth emergency—work which had involved intensive co-operation with both MAFF and DETR—it was a particularly remarkable lacuna that waste management was so strongly de-emphasised. For clarification, our response to that consultation is attached at Annex 1.

  11.  None of DEFRA's proposed seven draft High-Level Objectives referred to waste or secondary resource management. While one of the seven Objectives did refer to promoting sustainable management of natural resources, this appeared to envisage primary rather than secondary resources. ESA's remit, 0.5 per cent of GDP, was covered by 29 words in one note to one Objective.

  12.  DEFRA's proposed definition of sustainable development made no reference to resource efficiency or developing the use of secondary resources, unlike the definition adopted by the Department of Trade and Industry.

  13.  The document contained no reference to implementing the Landfill Directive!

  14.  There was no reference to the Government's own National Waste Strategy!

  15.  ESA was not encouraged by the draft Aim and Objectives document to hope that the internal balance of power within DEFRA would cause sufficient resources to be devoted to developing waste management into resource management.

  16.  It's document signalled more "New Department, Old Agenda" rather than the "New Department, New Agenda" claimed in the consultation title.

  17.  The omission of our industry and the delivery of sustainable waste management from DEFRA's document also matters because the consultation document made it clear that DEFRA's money will follow DEFRA's Aim and Objectives. Although there was a subsequent announcement of the PIU study into waste strategy, this omission was potentially serious at a time when Government Departments were preparing their bids to the Treasury for the forthcoming negotiations on the three year Public Spending Round.

  18.  The UK leads the way in tackling climate change, which is the most important environmental challenge facing the planet. However, despite waste rightly being identified as the second most pressing challenge after climate change6, the UK recovers less of the material and energy contained in waste than comparable EU Member States. This is unacceptable for a Country with the fourth largest economy in the world and is a source of intense frustration to our industry which wants to be enabled to do much better and whose leading Members have for some time been doing better in other EU Member States.


  19.  Little seems to have changed since the transfer of the Environment Protection Group from DETR to DEFRA. Both the Waste Policy and Waste Strategy units remain under-resourced to deliver the diverse and complex work programme surrounding the management of waste and secondary resources. This has manifested itself—to give just one example—in chronic delay in preparing the Landfill Regulations to implement the Landfill Directive, which was effective from July 2001. At the time of writing the Regulations have just been laid before Parliament and will be implemented approximately a year late.

  20.  Some requirements of the Directive take effect on 16 July 2002. The regulated industry represented by ESA and the Environment Agency as regulator have been operating to the requirements of the Landfill Directive for the last year in the absence of implementing regulations.

  21.  Ours is an unusual industry in that we fully recognise that rigorous environmental regulation is the primary driver to help us to move the emphasis of our industry from linear waste management towards closed loop resource management. To be compelled to operate in a regulatory vacuum at such a crucial time is extraordinarily perverse. While we have good relations at the most senior levels of DEFRA, at operational levels we have detected no evidence of comprehension of the commercial havoc wreaked by DEFRA's modus operandi. We have repeatedly tried to help. For example, we agreed in January to seek to broker suitable secondments to DEFRA: as at the date of this paper, we still await DEFRA's guidance on the procedure we should follow to ensure that the Secretary of State could demonstrate that both parties are seen to comply with appropriate standards of probity.

  22.  Again, ESA's Members are willing to invest in the infrastructure necessary to deliver the UK's national and international obligations. However, this investment has been stifled in the absence of the implementing regulations for the Landfill Directive: it could be reckless to invest without regulatory certainty. Regulatory uncertainty surrounding the implementation of the Landfill Directive has resulted in the closure of two of the UK's four high temperature incineration (HTI) plants, one as recently as March 2002, reducing UK HTI currently operating annual capacity from 165,000 tonnes to 105,000 tonnes. Again, this is an extraordinarily perverse outcome to inflict on an industry which is exceptionally willing to help the Government to deliver compliance with relevant legal duties.

  23.  Five of the leading waste management companies in the UK operate elsewhere in the EU as well as in the UK. The regulatory climate in these countries typically provides far greater certainty than does that in the UK. Therefore, they have been able to invest in new treatment technologies. For example, Germany has a far more prescriptive approach towards the management of hazardous waste: this enables their hazardous waste management industry to determine capacity requirements and to programme investment with far greater certainty.

  24.  It is essential that DEFRA takes the responsibility of creating the right framework in which our industry can operate and invest. We do take on trust the current Secretary of State's positive indications. It is not her fault that the National Waste Strategies remain essentially unfunded, and that regulation is still, if anything, pushing waste management down rather than up the waste hierarchy.

  25.  Notwithstanding the efforts of the PIU study into waste strategy, we fear that, without a stable group within DEFRA to maintain and enhance the political weight given to the management of waste and secondary resources, the current unsatisfactory state of affairs will continue. ESA is concerned that the Environmental Protection Group is under-resourced and also that staff turnover is high and that vacancies within the group are extremely difficult to fill. For example, it has been brought to our attention that there was not a single applicant for the last senior post dealing with waste within the Environmental Protection Group, and that in recent weeks two further key members have left the team. Quite apart from the fact that ESA and our Members deserve better, this state of affairs simply does not reflect the obligations to which the present Government has committed the UK within the EU.


  26.  The UK needs DEFRA greatly to enhance the political weight attached to waste management, and again, we have repeatedly and warmly welcomed the leadership demonstrated by the Secretary of State since taking up her position. Waste and secondary resource management is a national challenge requiring responsible political leadership from all partners and political parties and we support any political leaders who rise to this challenge.

  27.  However, the obvious under-resourcing within DEFRA has been further demonstrated by the difficulties now being faced by local authorities in managing end-of-life refrigeration equipment following the Government's failure to anticipate fully the implications of the European Council Regulation No. 2037/2000 on substances that deplete the ozone layer. It is clear that there remains a lack of strategic focus within the Government where the management of waste and secondary resources is concerned and problems will continue to arise if DEFRA fails, in the secretive way inherited from its predecessor Department(s), to rise to the challenge.

  28.  The EU is overwhelmingly the waste management industry's primary legal driver to higher rates of recovery from waste, and over the next decade more EU laws will impact significantly on the UK's managers and producers of waste.

  29.  Notwithstanding DEFRA's recognition that it is one of the most internationally oriented of Government Departments, DEFRA has not reflected changes in EU law in terms of its engagement with an economic sector such as that represented by ESA. The industry we represent became the subject of Qualified Majority Voting under the previous Government and of Co-Decision under the present Government. This very substantially impacts on the EU balance of power but DEFRA's culture remains aloof and uncommunicative. While there are initial signs of willingness to try to change, presumably in response to signals from the Secretary of State, and while DEFRA's officials are usually courteous and make time available when this is sought, the timeliness and quality of what officials are willing to disclose falls short of the engagement of other Government Departments with other important sectors of the UK economy. For a politically sensitive industry driven by regulation such as the industry represented by ESA, this is a particularly acute source of difficulty standing between us and delivery, on HMG's behalf, of the UK's compliance with the Landfill Directive. Driven by the EU, the context in which our industry operates is changing rapidly: we believe we are some steps ahead of DEFRA in recognising the type of partnership needed to make a success of the UK's compliance.

  30.  Producer Responsibility is now the framework around which the majority of EU environmental legislation is now designed. Thus far this framework has delivered the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and the End of Life Vehicles Directive. In the future the UK will also be subject to obligations to recycle and recover Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and batteries. Furthermore, there are firm EU plans to legislate for biodegradable waste and PVC. More widely, initiatives on waste recycling, the sustainable management of resources and Integrated Product Policy are planned.

  31.  The European Court of Justice is in the initial stages of taking action against the UK for non-implementation of the Waste Framework Directive requirements for agricultural waste. Again, we believe this to be indicative of the UK's approach to implementing EU legislation in this area. We are where we are: ESA and NFU are now discussing possible schemes to meet the requirements of the Directive relating to agricultural waste, and although time is short there is a real opportunity for DEFRA to show joined up thinking across its different constituent parts. We would be delighted if DEFRA is seen to succeed.

  32.  It is these policy frameworks that will shape future legislation governing the management of waste and resources across the EU. The UK must be a success at the forefront of delivering these changes, not a delinquent perpetually up before the European Court of Justice. It is essential that the UK has a Department which can lead responsibly on these issues to ensure compliance and that the opportunities offered are not squandered.

  33.  Many of these aspects in the evolution of environmental policy will be the responsibility of DEFRA as the lead department in the UK. Each represents an opportunity for the UK to deliver some of the aspirations of the UK's own Sustainable Development Strategy, such as increased resource efficiency. Furthermore, they also offer opportunities to the UK's environmental services industry, components of which are already world leaders.

May 2002

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