Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report



A second attempt at Community legislation

  20.    The Commission originally brought forward proposals for a Directive on Landfill in July 1991. After protracted negotiations, the Council adopted a Common Position in October 1995. In May 1996, however, the European Parliament rejected the Council's Common Position, considering that it failed to ensure a high enough level of environmental protection. The Parliament objected to the large number of proposed derogations (exemptions) and in particular to the exclusion of more than 50 per cent of the territory of the European Community by the exemption for areas with a population density of less than 35 inhabitants per square kilometre. The measure fell to be dealt with (as does the current proposal) under the Co­operation Procedure (Article 130s of the EC Treaty), which requires a unanimous vote in the Council to override the Parliament. As opinions were divided among Member States, the proposal lapsed. The Council later that year invited the Commission to bring forward a fresh proposal for a Directive, taking into account the work already undertaken in the negotiations and with suitable provisions for meeting the requirements of the Framework Directive on Waste.

Purpose and overall objectives of the Landfill Directive

  21.    The Commission's Explanatory Memorandum to the draft Directive states that "the principle of prevention of waste generation remains the first priority, followed by recovery and finally by the safe disposal of waste, ie landfilling".

  22.    The proposal would be a "daughter Directive" of the Framework Directive, other such "daughters" being the Directives on Hazardous Waste (94/904/EC), Shipment of Waste (94/575/EC), Disposal of PCBs (76/403/EEC) and Hazardous Waste Incineration (94/67/EC). Also relevant to waste management are the Directives on Municipal Waste Incinerators (89/369/EEC and 89/429/EEC), which stem from the separate framework Directive on air pollution from industrial plants (84/360/EEC), and on Packaging and Packaging of Waste (94/62/EC).

  23.    The aim of the Directive, as stated in Article 1, is "to provide for measures, procedures and guidance to prevent or reduce as far as possible negative effects on the environment, in pollution of surface water, groundwater, soil and air, as well as the resulting risks to human health, from landfilling of waste". This is elaborated in the Commission's Explanatory Memorandum, which explains that the main objective of the landfill proposal is "to ensure high standards for the disposal of waste in the European Union and to stimulate waste prevention via recycling and recovery of waste. Of key importance is the objective of creating a level playing field for the cost of disposal which consequently will prevent the unnecessary transport of waste. Today in Member States the price charged for landfilling does not appear to reflect the actual cost for the environment and for society in general. In the new proposal, Member States are required to ensure that externalities are internalised when the cost for landfilling of waste is estimated.[20]...Without Community provisions for landfills, there is a considerable risk that shipments of waste will increase in order to bring waste to landfill, which now-in the absence of appropriate environmental standards-is considerably less expensive."

  24.    Although not explicitly stated in Article 1, another key aim of the Directive is the reduction of methane emissions: one of the recitals states that "measures must be taken to reduce the production of methane gas from landfills in order to reduce global warming, through the reduction of the landfill of organic waste and the requirements to introduce landfill gas control".

Scope of the Directive

  25.    The scope of the Directive is defined by Article 3, which among other things excludes the spreading of sewage sludge and dredging sludge for purposes of soil improvement and fertilisation, the use of inert waste as hardcore or for land restoration, and the deposit of unpolluted soil or non-hazardous mining spoils. The terms of this Article have proved largely unexceptionable and attracted little comment from witnesses.

New features of the 1997 draft Directive

  26.    Details of the proposals are discussed in Part 3 of this Report. Much of the new text remains unchanged from the 1991 version but some significant changes have been made to take account of the European Parliament's comments and to reflect developments in waste management techniques. The two most important changes are:

  *  Reduction of the landfilling of biodegradable waste: the Directive provides for progressive reductions, with targets, in the proportion of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill. The recitals to the Directive make it clear that the purpose of these is to reduce methane emissions and to encourage separate collection of organic waste, sorting of waste, recovery and recycling.

  *  Pre-treatment of waste before landfilling: only waste which has been treated beforehand may be landfilled. Treatment is defined as "the physical, chemical or biological processes, including sorting, that change the characteristics of the waste in order to reduce its volume or hazardous nature, facilitate its handling or enhance recovery". The Commission comments in its Explanatory Memorandum that "this broad definition of pre-treatment has been introduced to encourage methods other than incineration prior to landfilling of waste".

  27.    Other new features include:

  *  Ban on disposal of used tyres: to encourage the recovery of tyres, to improve the stability of landfill sites and to reduce fire risks, landfilling of whole and shredded tyres (apart from bicycle and very large tyres) will be banned.

  *  Increased cost of landfilling: Member States are required to ensure that the minimum price to be charged for disposal to landfill includes, among other things, the estimated costs of closure and aftercare of sites for at least 50 years.

  *  No joint disposal of hazardous and non­hazardous wastes: this would mean the phasing out of the well established United Kingdom practice of "co­disposal" (see paragraphs 83-91). The Commission claims that the environment will benefit from decreased contamination of soil and groundwater and from improved control of landfills.

  *  Stricter provisions for landfills generally: landfill sites will have to conform to stricter environmental and locational criteria, including provision for gas control and recovery; operators of existing sites will have to produce "conditioning plans" (to include corrective measures) and implement them within 5 years.

  *  Remote areas: small islands with only one landfill and isolated settlements with difficult access are exempted from some of the Directive's provisions (of limited application to the UK): these provisions are very much more tightly drawn than those in the 1995 Common Position rejected by the European Parliament.

Current state of progress in the Council and the European Parliament

  28.    The draft Directive has been the subject of intensive negotiations in the Council Working Group and was one of the priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency during the second half of 1997. The Council Secretariat's press release on the outcome of the Environment Council meeting of 16 December stated: "Pending the Opinion of the European Parliament, the Council has on the basis of suggestions from the Presidency agreed on guidelines [emphasis added] regarding points which could constitute a common position on the proposal for a directive on landfill of waste. The guidelines will allow the UK Presidency to finalize the common position when the Opinion of the European Parliament can be taken into account."[21] The press release gives details of modifications to the Commission's proposals for the phased reduction of biodegradable waste going to landfill: these modifications would have the effect of extending the timetable by up to 10 years (see paragraphs 92-101). Although press reports described this as a "political agreement",[22] the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) assured Sub­Committee C that the Environment Council had been considering only a working document at the 16 December meeting and that no decisions had been taken.[23]

  29.    The European Parliament agreed its opinion in a report adopted on 19 February 1998. The report endorses, and in some respects strengthens, the Commission's proposals, for example by proposing additional recitals to the effect that:

  *  landfill is the option of last resort in the hierarchy

  *  it is ecologically more sensible to make compost and biogas from biodegradable waste than to landfill or incinerate it

  *  incineration with energy recovery constitutes a sound alternative to landfill "and would eliminate methane gas emissions altogether".

We mention other amendments proposed by the Parliament when discussing specific provisions of the Directive in Parts 3 and 4 of the Report.

20   The Commission's more detailed commentary later on in the Memorandum and the actual terms of Article 10 make it clear that what is intended is that the price charged for landfill should reflect all of the costs of operating a landfill, including the costs of a financial security to cover the operator's environmental obligations. A number of "externalities", notably methane and nuisance, are not mentioned by the Directive in this context. See paragraphs 118-9. Back

21   Council press release 13373/97 (399) EN. Back

22   For example, European Report, No 2277, 17 December 1997 and No 2285, 24 January 1998; ENDS Report, No 275, December 1997. Back

23   Letter to the Clerk, 20 February 1998. Back

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