Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report


6692/97: Explanatory Memorandum by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Proposal for a Council Directive on the landfill of waste


1.  The draft Council Directive on the Landfill of Waste, 97/0085 (SYN), COM(97)105 final seeks to introduce uniform standards for the landfill of waste throughout the European Union. This Explanatory Memorandum outlines its Proposals and their likely impact.

2.  In 1991 the Commission of the European communities presented a Proposal for a Council Directive on the Landfill of Waste. After extensive debate, the Council adopted its Common Position in October 1995. However, in May 1996, the European Parliament rejected the Council's Common Position. As a consequence, the Environment Council of June 1996 requested the European Commission to submit, as soon as possible, a new Proposal for a Council Directive, and suggested that this Proposal should take account of the work already undertaken and contain suitable provisions for effectively meeting the requirements of the Framework Directive on Waste.

3.    The Commission's new Proposal was published on 5 March 1997 - COM(97) 105. It takes into account developments in the waste area as reflected in the review of the community Waste Strategy for Waste Management of 1996. The draft Directive also takes into account EU legislation or updated legislation adopted since the discussion of the original Proposal.

4.  Whilst much of the text of the draft Directive remains the same as in previous versions laid before the House, significant changes have been made to take account of the comments of the European Parliament on the earlier Proposal and to reflect developments in the waste management sector.

5.  The two most significant changes are as follows:

    Article 5-introduces provisions to reduce the landfilling of biodegradable wastes and to ensure that the gases produced in new and existing landfills are collected, treated and used. It sets targets for the reduction of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfills; by 2002 a reduction-as far as possible-to 75 per cent of the total amount of biodegradable waste (by weight) produced in 1993; by 2005 a reduction to 50 per cent of the 1993 figure; and by 2010 a reduction to 25 per cent of that figure. Member States are also required to put in place, within two years of the entry into force of the Directive systems for monitoring both the total amount of municipal waste going to landfills and the proportion of the waste which is biodegradable.

    Article 6-requires that only waste which has been subject to treatment should be landfilled. Pre-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 precise implications are unclear.

6.  Other changes include:

    Article 3-Small islands with only one landfill and isolated settlements with difficult access are exempted from some of the provisions of the draft Directive-however, it appears that as presently drawn this exemption has very limited application to the UK.

    Article 5-To encourage the recovery of tyres and to thus save resources, the disposal of whole tyres and shredded tyres to landfill will be banned.

    Article 10-To restore the balance between the costs of the landfilling of wastes and the costs of other treatment methods this Article requires all Member States to ensure that the minimum price to be charged by all public and private landfill operators for the disposal of any type of waste in landfill shall include, amongst other things the estimated costs of the closure and after care of the site for a period of at least 50 years.

    Article 14-For existing landfills the provisions have been made stricter. A conditioning plan will now need to be presented within three years after the entry into force of the Directive and the plan is to be implemented five years after that date.


7.  Earlier versions of a draft landfill Directive were laid before the House with an Explanatory Memorandum on 16 July 1993 and a supplementary Memorandum on 10 January 1994-Reference 7506/93 COM (93)275 final. Both were cleared by the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities Sub-Committee C on 19 April 1994.

8.  The Commission reviewed its Community Waste Strategy for Waste Management in 1996. A review document was laid before Parliamentary Scrutiny committees as EM 9651/96 on 23 October 1996 (COM(96) 399 final) and was debated by Standing Committee A on 20 November 1996. It was cleared by the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities on 24 October 1996.


9.  The Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions has lead responsibility. The appropriate Secretary of State has responsibility for waste policy in Northern Ireland, in Scotland and in Wales. The President of the Board of Trade also has an interest.

10(i)Legal base: Article 130s(1) of the Treaty.
(ii) European Parliament procedure: The co-operation procedure applies.
(iii) Voting Procedures: The Council will act by qualified majority voting (QMV).
(iv) Impact on UK Legislation-Waste disposal in Great Britain is controlled by the Control of Pollution Act 1974, The Environment Protectional Act 1990, and the Environment Act 1995. Operators of landfill sites must obtain a waste management licence under the waste management licensing system set up under Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Legislation will be required to implement certain provisions of the draft Directive, in particular to put the pre-treatment of wastes and the target for the reduction of the biodegradability of municipal waste onto a more formal statutory footing.


11.  The Commission believes that the Proposal is compatible with the principle of subsidiarity. It seeks to introduce uniform standards for landfilling throughout the Union. Different national standards would not only increase the present divergence in environmental standards between certain regions of the Community but could also stimulate increased shipments of waste.

12.  The introduction of limits for landfilling of biodegradable waste represents, in the Commission's view, a high level of respect for the principle of subsidiarity. The provision allows Member States to take account of local conditions in reducing the amount of biodegradable waste landfilled and will therefore allow Member States flexibility in achieving the targets.

13.  The Government is, however, concerned that the Proposal for limits on the amount of biodegradable municipal waste landfilled itself is unnecessarily restrictive of Member States' freedom to continue the development of their own approaches to reducing methane emissions from landfill.


14.  The Department of the Environment, Transport, and the regions has undertaken consultations on the proposal with other Government Departments, the Local Authority Associations, industry and professional bodies. Their comments, and those received following a planned wider public consultation, will be taken into account in developing the Government's negotiating position.

15.  The Department has established a liaison group with representatives of lead organisations, including the CBI, the Environmental Services Association and the Institute of Wastes Management, in order to solicit their views and keep them informed of the progress of the negotiations.


16.  The Government supports the draft directive's main objectives: the stringent application of high environmental standards across Europe, and a reduction in methane emissions from landfill sites. However, some of its proposals do not show sufficient regard for subsidiarity, or for the need for Member States to adopt their own, environmentally sustainable, waste management systems, in the light of their own national circumstances.

17.  At present over 80 per cent of waste in the UK is landfilled; among the highest proportions within the EU. Landfill is already closely regulated under existing UK and EU legislation, and there should therefore unlikely be a need for significant changes to regulatory practice as a result of the Directive. However, requirements under articles 5 and 6 in the draft for a reduction in the amount of biodegradable waste landfilled, and for the pre-treatment of all wastes landfilled, would require significant changes from existing UK waste management practice. It is of particular concern, therefore, that there has been no detailed assessment by the Commission of cost implications for those Member States which, like the UK, have at present a heavy reliance on landfill as a means of disposal.

18.  The Government is concerned that the directive does not make sufficient allowance for the scope for safe, well-managed landfill, with methane collection. The proposed limits on biodegradable waste imply a substantial shift away from landfill in the UK, and towards other options for waste management, such as incineration and recycling. While the government is keen to encourage a move in waste managements practice away from disposal, and towards recycling and recovery, it is concerned that the scale of change necessary to meet the proposed targets and the tight timetable in which to achieve it could result in less satisfactory solutions being adopted, and hamper progress towards fully sustainable solutions.

19.  The Government will therefore argue that article 5 should focus more on the shared objective of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and less on prescribing detailed means to achieve that end. The Government will also be keen to ensure that the rules on landfill management are stringent and are evenly applied.


20.  A compliance cost assessment is attached at Annex A. Initial estimates, based on the currently cheapest method of meeting the targets for reduction of biodegradable waste (incineration with energy recovery), suggest that investment of between £3bn and £7bn would be needed.


21.  There are no major financial implications for the Community or for its institutions. There is a requirement on the Commission to collect information from the Member States and to publish a summary (article 15).


23.  The draft Directive was briefly presented by the Commission at the June Environment Council meeting and discussions will be taken forward under the Luxembourg Presidency.

Angela Eagle
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
23 July 1977

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