Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report



  30.    The Directive depends on a number of definitions, set out in Article 2. We discuss various definitions in the context of particular Articles, but two stand out as being particularly important to the interpretation of the Directive's key proposal-the proposed progressive reduction of "biodegradable municipal waste" going to landfill (Article 5).

Municipal waste

  31.    "Municipal waste" is defined as "waste from households, as well as commercial, industrial, institutional and other waste which, because of its nature or composition, is similar to waste from households". This is much narrower than the definition of "controlled" waste in UK legislation[24] ("household, industrial and commercial waste or any such waste") in that industrial waste is included only to the extent that it has the characteristics of household waste. Some witnesses, including the Environment Agency and the DETR, suggested that the term was imprecise and meant that the likely impact of the reduction targets under Article 5 was uncertain: did it, for instance, cover only waste that was collected by local authorities (in England and Wales nearly 26 million tonnes in 1996, 8 per cent of which came from non-household sources[25]), or was it also intended to include similar waste collected from businesses under commercial contracts (for England and Wales some 44 million tonnes on top of that[26])?

  32.    In our opinion it is sufficiently clear from a reading of the proposals as a whole that the definition is not confined to waste collected by local authorities. However, if doubts remain, it is important that they should be removed, if necessary by some re-wording of Article 2(b), and preferably there should be an alignment of the Directive's definition with the definition of "controlled waste" in UK terminology.

Biodegradable waste

  33.    "Biodegradable waste" is a term which is crucial to the working of the draft Directive. The definition given by the Commission ("any waste that is capable of undergoing anaerobic or aerobic decomposition") was criticised as being too broad. Aspinwalls made the telling point that a cabbage leaf and a baulk of timber were both biodegradable-the one in a week and the other in perhaps 100 years (p 130). The Directive lacked any reference to degradation per unit time, reflecting the different rates of biodegradation, which in turn can depend on the types of micro­organism present in a landfill site.

  34.    We do not believe that the definition of biodegradable waste is adequate: the ability to undergo aerobic or anaerobic decomposition does not in itself make a material biodegradable. We take the view that in the context of the Directive it is the rate of biodegradation that is more important, rather than simply the ability to biodegrade. This is a matter which requires clarification before the Directive is formally adopted: we recommend that biodegradable waste should be defined in terms of its ability to degrade completely within the 50­year aftercare period proposed in Article 10 of the Directive, thereby leaving a site in an environmentally benign state. This has an important bearing on our recommendation in paragraph 91 on the need to optimise methane generation and recovery.

24   Environmental Protection Act 1990, Section 75. Back

25   Municipal Waste Management 1995/96, DETR, January 1998. Back

26   Environment Agency, pp 4-5. Back

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