Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report



  13.    In 1976, OECD Member Countries adopted the concept of a "hierarchy" of preferred options for waste management, in which waste avoidance and minimisation came at the top and permanent storage or disposal in or on land came at the bottom.[12] In the European Commission's formulation, it can be shown diagrammatically:


The Waste Framework Directive

  14.    The European Community had originally adopted a Framework Directive on Waste in 1975,[13] and by the 1980s, if not earlier, the notion of the waste hierarchy had become an accepted feature of European Community waste policy. As amended in 1991, the Framework Directive encapsulates key elements of Community waste management strategy, including the hierarchy and what have become known as the principles of proximity and self-sufficiency, which require that waste should be disposed of in the closest suitable facilities and that waste produced in the Community should not be disposed of elsewhere. It obliges Member States to establish waste management plans and a procedure for licensing companies involved in waste disposal or recovery.

  15.    The Framework Directive defines waste as "any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard" within a list of categories of waste set out in an Annex (see box).

Categories of Waste (Annex I to 91/156/EEC)

1    Production or consumption residues not otherwise specified below

2    Off-specification products

3    Products whose date for appropriate use has expired

4    Materials spilled, lost or having undergone other mishap, including any materials, equipment, etc., contaminated as a result of the mishap

5    Materials contaminated or soiled as a result of planned actions (e.g. residues from cleaning operations, packing materials, containers, etc.)

6    Unusable parts (e.g. reject batteries, exhausted catalysts, etc.)

7    Substances which now longer perform satisfactorily (e.g. contaminated acids, contaminated solvents, exhausted tempering salts, etc.)

8    Residues of industrial processes (e.g. slags, still bottoms, etc.)

9    Residues from pollution abatement processes (e.g. scrubber sludges, baghouse dusts, spent filters, etc.)

10    Machining/finishing residues (e.g. lathe turnings, mill scales, etc.)

11    Residues from raw materials extraction and processing (e.g. mining residues, oil field slops, etc.)

12    Adulterated materials (e.g. oils contaminated with PCBs, etc.)

13    Any materials, substances or products whose use has been banned by law

14    Any materials for which the holder has no further use (e.g. agricultural, household, office, commercial and shop discards, etc.)

15    Contaminated materials, substances or products resulting from remedial action with respect to land

16    Any materials, substances or products which are not contained in the above categories.

The Community strategy for waste management

  16.    In 1990 the Council adopted a proposal by the Commission for a Community Strategy for Waste Management[14] which again rested heavily on the principle of a hierarchy; and the principle was reaffirmed in the Commission's 1996 Communication on a review of the Strategy.[15]


Legislation and the 1997 White Paper

  17.    The licensing requirements of the Waste Framework Directive were given effect in Great Britain by the Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994; the Environment Act 1995 (which inter alia amended various provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990) includes the requirement to develop a national strategy for waste management. Section 92 of the 1995 Act places the task of preparing the strategy for England and Wales with the Secretaries of State and for Scotland with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).[16] Schedule 12 to the Act sets out "objectives for the purposes of the national waste strategy". These objectives give clear expression to the principles of sustainability and the waste hierarchy. In respect of England and Wales, they were elaborated in detail in the previous Government's 1995 White Paper Making Waste Work,[17] which besides extensive background discussion of the principles of waste management included a number of specific targets for waste reduction and recycling (see paragraph 128). The White Paper was not, however, a formal strategy for the purposes of the Act.

Best Practicable Environmental Option

  18.    The White Paper emphasised that whilst the hierarchy was useful as an overall policy objective, its application in particular circumstances should be tested against the principle of Best Practicable Environmental Option (see box): "The waste hierarchy will not always indicate the most sustainable waste management option for particular waste streams, and waste producers will still want to recover or dispose of their waste in the most cost-effective way. Therefore the Best Practicable Environmental Option (BPEO) for each waste stream will vary according to circumstances....All the waste hierarchy options have a place in a sustainable waste management strategy, and even landfill, although at the bottom of the hierarchy, can be a sustainable waste management option for some wastes..., provided it is properly controlled and managed in an environmentally acceptable way."

Best Practicable Environmental Option (BPEO)

As defined by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, "a BPEO is the outcome of a systematic consultative and decision making procedure which emphasises the protection and conservation of the environment across land, air and water. The BPEO procedure establishes, for a given set of objectives, the option that provides the most benefits or least damage to the environment as a whole, at acceptable cost, in the long term as well as in the short term."[18]

  19.    The present Government is broadly committed to the general philosophy, targets and objectives of Making Waste Work, but is currently engaged on a review of policy. This will shortly be the subject of public consultation, leading to the publication of a new White Paper in 1999 setting out a formal waste strategy for England and Wales.[19] Together with the strategies being prepared in parallel in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the White Paper will ensure full coverage of the UK, and collectively the strategies will constitute the UK's waste management plan for the purposes of the Framework Directive.

12   The original bottom rung of the hierarchy was dumping at sea. Back

13   Council Directive 75/442/EEC, OJ No L194 25 July 1975 p39, amended by Directive 91/156/EEC, OJ No L78 26 March 1991 p32. Back

14   Council Resolution of 7 May 1990 OJ No C122. Back

15   COM(96)399 Final, 30 July 1996. Back

16   The arrangements for Northern Ireland are covered by an Order in Council. Back

17   Making Waste Work, Cm 3040, HMSO, December 1995. Back

18   RCEP 12th Report, Best Practicable Environmental Option, Cm 310, HMSO, February 1988. Back

19   House of Commons, Written Answers, 13 January 1998, col 160Back

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