Select Committee on European Communities Eleventh Report


15 JUNE 1999

By the Select Committee appointed to consider Community proposals, whether in draft or otherwise, to obtain all necessary information about them, and to make reports on those which, in the opinion of the Committee, raise important questions of policy or principle, and on other questions to which the Committee considers that the special attention of the House should be drawn.


Waste Incineration

12791/98 (COM(98)558 final):  Proposal for a Council Directive on the Incineration of Waste.


Background to the Proposal


1. Incineration of waste can lead to the emission to air, land and water of significant quantities of pollutants, such as acid gases, particulate matter, heavy metals and trace organic compounds, harmful to human health and the environment. Various control measures have been progressively introduced over the years. Internationally, Protocols to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution set legally binding limit values for emissions of persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals. Within the European Community, the Fifth Environmental Action Programme (Towards Sustainability), adopted in 1993, established targets for releases of heavy metals and dioxins and furans between 1985 and 2005, and required numerical emission limits to be established for municipal waste incineration.

2. In parallel to air quality measures, there has been a steady development of Community policy in the waste management field. Before the mid-1970s, waste was regarded largely as a local matter in the Member States, and the Community had no legislation concerned with waste disposal. The adoption of the Waste Framework Directive in 1975[1] was in part a response to the introduction by some Member States of legislation intended to provide a framework for waste policy, and was followed by a series of "daughter directives" dealing with particular substances or wider aspects of waste management. During the 1990s, against the background of the Fifth Action Programme and the 1996 Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive[2], a more strategic and comprehensive approach emerged. In February 1997, the Council adopted a Resolution setting out a Community strategy for waste management generally. This continued to take as one of its basic principles what has become known as the "Waste Management Hierarchy", originally developed by OECD—a range of options in descending order of preference, in which waste avoidance and minimisation come at the top and permanent disposal (or storage) in the environment—e.g. landfill—comes at the bottom.

3. Three extant Directives deal specifically with the incineration of waste. Two of these—Directives 89/369/EEC[3] and 89/429/EEC[4]—with the emission of pollutants from new and existing municipal waste incineration plants, whilst a more recent measure—the Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive (94/67/EC)[5]—lays down conditions for the operation of plants incinerating the most hazardous wastes. The latter imposes more stringent standards for emissions than the Municipal Waste Incineration Directives, and specifies numerical emission limits for a number of toxic heavy metals, dioxins and furans emitted to the air.

4. The Municipal and Hazardous Waste Incineration Directives leave various gaps, however, which the Commission's current proposals seek to fill. For example, there are other types of waste which may pose similar hazards when being incinerated but are not covered by existing legislation; and there has been a significant growth in "co­incineration", in which wastes are mixed with conventional fuel in various forms of combustion plant (the draft Directive defines a "co­incineration plant" as "a plant whose main purpose is the generation of energy or production of material products and which uses wastes as a regular or additional fuel").

5. The Commission takes the view that this situation is anomalous, and could lead to transboundary shipments of waste from areas with stringent controls to those with lower standards of environmental protection. It also considers that, whilst an increase in the quantity of waste generated, combined with a decreasing use of landfill and the banning of sea dumping of sewage sludge, will mean greater amounts of waste being incinerated over the coming years, recent technological advances make it possible to achieve improved standards of emission abatement in a cost-effective manner. This led it in November 1997 to propose an amendment to Directive 94/67/EC which would set equivalent limits for the emission of hazardous substances into water and set specific emission limit values for the pollutants contained in the wastewater generated by the exhaust gas cleaning systems of hazardous waste incineration plants. (This proposal, which the Committee cleared last year, is still under discussion in the Council but is not further considered in this Report.)


6. The Waste Framework Directive requires Member States to prepare national waste management strategies; in the UK this requirement is given statutory form by the 1990 Environmental Protection Act and related enactments.[6] In June 1998 the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Welsh Office published a consultation paper, Less Waste, More Value, superseding a White Paper by the previous Government[7]. The outcome of consultation—promised but not yet available by the time of this Report—will be draft national strategies for England and Wales. Consultation papers have also been published for Scotland[8] and Northern Ireland[9],and will lead to equivalent draft strategies for those countries.


7. Of particular relevance to the proposals as they affect the incineration of municipal waste is the recently adopted Landfill Directive, on which we reported in March 1998[10]. This Directive requires Member States inter alia to make substantial reductions over time in the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfill. Among its objectives is the stimulation of waste minimisation and prevention via recycling and recovery of materials. As we noted in our 1998 Report, more stringent conditions on the use of landfill will have a direct impact on the use of incineration. To the extent that the targets for reduced use of landfill cannot be achieved by waste avoidance, minimisation, recovery and recycling, incineration is expected to be needed as a treatment option (see paragraphs 0-0).

1   Council Directive 75/442/EEC on Waste, OJ L194, 25 July 1975. Back

2   Council Directive 96/61/EC covering Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control, OJ L257, 10 October 1996. Back

3   Council Directive on the Prevention of Air Pollution from New Municipal Waste Incineration Plants, OJ L163, 14 June 1989. Back

4   Council Directive on the Reduction of Air Pollution from Existing Municipal Waste Incineration Plants, OJ L203, 15 July 1989. Back

5   Council Directive on the Incineration of Hazardous Waste, OJ L365, 31 December 1994. Back

6   Developing the strategies is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Welsh Office (to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland). Back

7   Making Waste Work, Cm 3040, December 1995. Back

8   National Waste Strategy: Scotland, SEPA, May 1999. Back

9   A Waste Management Strategy for Northern Ireland, DOENI, June 1998. Back

10   House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities, 17th Report, 1997-98, Sustainable Landfill, 17 March 1998, HL Paper 83. Back

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