Fourth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Tuesday 14 May 2002
[Mr. George Stevenson in the Chair]
Draft Landfill (England and Wales)
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002.
The regulations implement the technical and regulatory requirements of the European Commission landfill directive in England and Wales. Many of the landfill directive's requirements are already reflected in controls on landfill sites that are currently regulated under the waste management licensing regime. However, the regulations will introduce some key changes to current United Kingdom landfill practice. Those changes include: the classification of landfills as sites for hazardous, non-hazardous or inert waste; an end to the current UK practice of the co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste by July 2004; the introduction of waste acceptance criteria that set out the types of waste that can be accepted at each kind of landfill site; the requirement to treat most wastes before landfill; and, bans on certain wastes in landfills, such as liquid and hazardous wastes and used tyres.
The regulations require operators to submit site conditioning plans to the Environment Agency. Those plans should describe how a landfill site would meet all the requirements of the regulations. They would include references to the changes that I have outlined, as well as to site engineering requirements and operational and monitoring controls. A site must close if the agency considers that it is unable to meet the requirements.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to comment if he catches the Chairman's eye. I will take an intervention if he insists, although I am simply making an overall exposition.
The regulations will, during a transitional period that will last until 2007, bring all landfill sites under the Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000. That will provide a single, consistent and coherent regulatory regime for all landfill sites, regardless of size or classification. Thus, it will be possible to avoid difficulties that could have arisen from running two separate regimes for landfill, such as waste management licensing and pollution prevention and control. The waste management industry has welcomed that.
The regulations do not cover the directive's targets regarding the diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfill sites. The Government have consulted on a system of tradable landfill permits to
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enforce those targets. Subject to the availability of parliamentary time, we will introduce separate legislation that covers those requirements.
We have consulted widely on our implementation plans. A consultation paper about our proposal for implementation was issued in October 2000. That was followed, in August 2001, by a second paper that included a draft copy of the regulations. In recognition of the scale of the challenge that the landfill directive has set us, we have engaged with stakeholders throughout the process to ensure that implementation is as smooth as possible, and we will continue to do so as we move into the implementation phase.
The Environment Agency has also consulted the relevant bodies about the wide range of guidance that it has produced. That guidance is intended to assist operators to prepare to meet the requirements of the directive. It will cover both the technical requirements of waste treatment and site engineering and regulatory procedures, such as the submission of site conditioning plans.
The landfill directive was perhaps the key driver behind the waste strategy. If we implement the directive successfully, we will go a long way towards meeting the aims and objectives of the strategy. In particular, the regulations will help us to meet the target of reducing the amount of industrial and commercial waste landfill to 85 per cent. of 1998 levels.
We must focus on recovering value from such waste and reduce the environmental impacts of disposal. The regulations will assist that process by banning certain waste from landfill and by requiring waste to be treated before landfilling takes place. The cost of landfilling may also rise as operators pass the cost of meeting the requirements of the regulations on to producers. As those costs rise, the incentive for waste producers to look seriously at waste minimisation will also increase. Government policy is to minimise waste and to recycle and compost as much as possible of what is produced. There will always be a place for properly managed and regulated landfill and the regulations will ensure that that is the case, but that must increasingly be seen as part of a much more balanced and sustainable range of measures to achieve the greatest use of our resources. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will approve these important regulations and I will listen carefully to the views that are expressed today.
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): I wish to start with the timing of the statutory instrument. Waste management is a major, multi-billion pound industry and it is certain to grow over the coming years. The receipt of timely information that affects investment decisions is essential to any industry. I am therefore surprised that regulations to ensure compliance with the landfill directive have been brought before Parliament some eight months after the deadline for implementation. The landfill directive and the regulations are needed to help guide investment. I hope that the Minister recognises that
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such delays have fettered the ability of waste producers and managers to plan with certainty.
Will the Minister confirm that the Government will swiftly issue statutory guidance to help the Environment Agency and those involved in the waste industry to achieve consistent interpretation of the regulations? Consistent and co-ordinated regulations throughout the United Kingdom are also essential. When will the regulations be laid before the Parliament in Scotland and the Northern Ireland Assembly? While the legislative timetable is a matter for the devolved Administrations, a lack of regulatory co-ordination could lead to the flow of waste to landfill in Scotland.
From 2004, the landfill directive prohibits the acceptance of hazardous and non-hazardous into the same landfill sites, a practice that is known as co-disposal. Co-disposal has provided a means whereby hazardous waste can be stabilised within the broader mass of materials contained in the landfill. The end of co-disposal means that separate landfill sites will be designated as able to accept either hazardous or non-hazardous waste only. In anticipation of that requirement, the industry has for years pointed to the need to pre-treat hazardous waste until it is safe and stable before final management of it in landfill.
Does the Minister accept that investment in new hazardous waste treatment technologies has been significantly constrained by the failure of the European technical adaptation committee to agree waste acceptance criteria? Those criteria will determine the levels to which waste must be pre-treated before it will be accepted into a landfill site.
Does the Minister understand that the interim national waste acceptance criteria do not provide the certainty that is necessary for investment? When does he expect the introduction of the requirement that hazardous waste be pre-treated to a safe and stable state? Does he accept that the delay in providing the necessary regulatory framework may encourage the development of short-term solutions that compromise the long-term environmental sustainability that we all wish to achieve?
Having said that, I wish it to be recorded that I believe that the measures are a step in the right direction. The treatment of waste and the separation of landfills are practices that should have been undertaken a considerable time ago. While I think that the rationale behind the instrument is worthy, I ask the Minister what steps are being taken to ensure that liquid waste, tyres and certain hazardous wastes can be disposed of in a more environmentally friendly way. Before implementation of the regulations can take full effect, the Government have to confirm that there are better alternative means of disposal. We cannot afford to see another example of shoddy implementation of regulations resulting from the Government's disorganisation; we cannot afford yet another fridge-type fiasco.
Fly tipping is not just an expensive and unsightly curse: it is contrary to all environmental practices and degrades the environment. However, that is likely to happen unless there is an effective alternative. I would
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like the Minister to comment on an article in The Independent today by Marie Woolf, in which she writes that
''ministers will admit today that the targets for recovering 9 million tons of waste generated in Britain have been missed.''
I turn to the larger picture of waste management in the United Kingdom. As I have said, implementation of the directive is already behind schedule, and the UK's general record on waste management has been justly criticised. In March 2001, the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs published a damning report on the UK's ability to manage waste. It was critical of the fact that attitudes towards waste in the UK are currently characterised by apathy and a profound lack of imagination.
The UK lags behind other developed countries in waste management. The report points to the success of ambitious schemes in Canberra—where the recycling rate has increased from virtually nil to 59 per cent. in eight years—and Flanders, where the rate has improved from 18 per cent. to 59 per cent. in seven years. Why are we such laggards? Why does the Government's waste strategy show a distinct lack of vision, clarity and ambition? More should have been done before the Government came to power; but much more should have been done in the past five years, as the problems have grown.
Waste management must be the first priority in any waste management strategy. The simplest, most cost-effective and least environmentally hazardous means of tackling household and other waste is to reduce the volume of waste produced in the first place.
Although detailed recovery and composting targets for local authorities are set in Waste Strategy 2000—a Government document—no targets for waste minimisation are given. The European framework directive on waste requires that member states encourage
''the prevention or reduction of waste production and its harmfulness''
as a priority above the need to encourage
''the recovery of waste, including recycling, re-use or reclamation, or the use of waste as a source of energy.''
Why is it accepted wisdom that economic growth must drive waste levels ever higher? That is a complacent, defeatist and inefficient approach to what could be a significant partial solution to the waste problem. However, waste minimisation alone cannot tackle what is a national problem. Every effort should be made to reuse or recycle waste, instead of sending it for disposal.
Britain lags behind other developed countries, recycling or composting only 11 per cent. of its domestic waste. In February 2002, the World Economic Forum highlighted the fact that Britain had one of the most miserable recycling records in the developed world. Finland aims to recover value from 70 per cent. of its municipal solid waste by 2005. If the United Kingdom were to achieve a similar rate of recycling, the upshot would be a reduction of 14.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of taking 5.4 million cars off the road.
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We welcome this statutory instrument, which is long overdue. One does not have to be a Bedfordshire MP to know that our national reliance on landfill is a disgrace, that much of what is currently destined for landfill sites should not be, and that ours is a wasteful society. I trust that the Minister will answer my questions, and provide the reassurances that I have requested. The Conservative party is happy to support this measure and hopes that it will succeed. It is a step in the right direction.