Hazardous waste: the way forward

IEM looks at a selection of recommendations made by the Hazardous Waste Forum.

"The authorities will have to use the remaining time much more productively, if they are to avoid sleepwalking the whole country into a hazardous waste crisis from next July".

These were the words of Environmental Services Association chief executive, Dirk Hazell, speaking about the impending Hazardous Waste Directive. His comments followed the launch of the Hazardous Waste Forum's action plan for the reduction and environmentally sound management of hazardous waste. Hazell echoes the concerns of many stakeholders who fear the necessary infrastructure for hazardous waste management and disposal will not be in place by July. To compound matters, the government has been criticised for not clarifying the new legislative requirements, preventing industry from making informed investment decisions.

The Hazardous Waste Forum was established by the government in December 2002, bringing together key stakeholders to consider the likely impacts of forthcoming legislation.

Its action plan, published on December 19, 2003, identifies areas that need addressing in order to implement new regulations and carves out a balanced compliance strategy for hazardous waste management. Some, like Hazell, say the work is long overdue and will perhaps be too late to avert a crisis when the Hazardous Waste Directive is introduced.

The action plan makes recommendations to government, industry and other stakeholders. Copies of the full action plan can be found on the Defra website: www.defra.gov.uk, but extracts follow:

Objective one

To provide a clear and robust regulatory system for hazardous waste management, providing both the clarity of unambiguous legislative requirements and the certainty of consistent and transparent implementation, inspection and enforcement.

  • recommended action 1.3 The Environment Agency (EA) must ensure a 'level playing field', by applying effective control of hazardous wastes fairly and consistently to all the 'links' in the waste management chain from the 'cradle' to the 'grave', thus eliminating illegal activities. Particular attention is needed on hazardous waste producers (who will be subject to a new registration requirement), brokers, and transfer stations.
Objective two

To raise awareness of the issues surrounding hazardous waste management, in business and industry; and to promote the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, and in particular hazardous waste minimisation (ie. prevention, reduction, reuse, recovery and recycling).

  • recommended actions 2.1A An information and awareness programme on hazardous waste management for business and industry should be developed and implemented as soon as possible and co-ordinated by the EA.
  • comments and specific issues One example is the DTI 'road show' for producers of WEEE. A similar initiative focussing on hazardous wastes would be one option. A possible extension to the basic information and awareness campaign would be to provide more formal 'hazardous waste awareness' training for waste producers. This could build on the experience of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management's general waste awareness certificate for waste producers.

2.1B Envirowise, through its existing helpline, should be established as the single point of contact, to provide practical information on all aspects of hazardous waste minimisation.

  • comments and specific issues

    One point of contact will provide the clarity that is needed on where to go for assistance. 60 per cent of small businesses that have waste queries go initially to the local authority (LA) for advice, and LAs are unsure as to where to redirect queries.

    Government funding of the single point of contact is required, at least for the transitional period (two years in the first instance, subject to review and possible extension) to allow a free advice and support service to be provided (up to a maximum time input per inquiry).

    A well developed and easy to use website is an essential part of the service required.

    An important element of advice would be on the recommended options for specific types of hazardous wastes. Additional, sector specific, guidance materials should be developed in collaboration with the relevant trade associations.

    2.2-2.3 Adequately resourced and funded technical assistance programmes, to disseminate legislative requirements, good practice and to encourage innovation in hazardous waste prevention, reduction, reuse, recovery and recycling, should be established as soon as possible. Active participation by industry and relevant trade associations, as well as government and the regulators, is vital to success.

    • comments and specific issues

      The revised Hazardous Waste List will bring many new producers into the control scheme, while the end of co-disposal may result in a step increase in costs for existing producers. The best solution for industry, the environment and the economy as a whole, is to minimise waste quantities.

    Producers need both information and technical assistance in the short-term. Envirowise provides a similar programme on general environmental issues to SMEs. The programme here needs to have funds specifically earmarked for hazardous wastes, and needs to be available to a wider audience than just SMEs. It should also cover awareness raising of new legislation.

    While strong government involvement is needed, the participation of industry and trade associations is also vital. If both government and industry co-funding can be mobilised, then matching funding through the EC LIFE programme may be forthcoming (a bid is being prepared by the EA).

    Landfill tax credit scheme funding is one option to be explored further.

    Objective three

    To ensure the provision of the hazardous waste management facilities required to meet the new legislative requirements.

    • recommended actions 3.3A Defra and the EA should consider what short-term actions may be required in the event of a hiatus between the implementation of relevant directives and regulations, and the provision of appropriate management options. This might include a general shortfall in treatment capacity, lack of an appropriate management route for a specific waste stream, etc.
    • comments and specific issues The central issue facing England and Wales is to ensure the necessary capacity is available to replace co-disposal landfill, in July 2004 or shortly thereafter. In the event of a hiatus between the demand for treatment and the provision of these services, plans for interim measures should be in place, to be enacted as necessary. These might include stockpiling or temporary authorisation for exports to mainland Europe, seeking derogations on specific 'pinch points' in the Landfill Directive, etc.
    Objective four

    To build on Waste Strategy 2000, to put in place a sound framework for developing hazardous waste management in England and Wales over the next ten years and beyond.

    • recommended actions 4.1 The Forum recommends that government should carry out further work on developing a more balanced set of policy and economic instruments, including 'carrots' as well as 'sticks', to encourage hazardous waste producers to act more responsibly.
    • comments and specific issues Further use of producer responsibility, either on the basis of voluntary agreements with industry sectors and/or with statutory backing. Other EU countries have had in place, for a number of years, similar hazardous waste control systems to that which is now being developed in England and Wales. In all cases a strong legislative framework, is complemented by an integrated package of other policy instruments. A system of economic instruments (eg. grants, interest free loans, ECAs) is widely used.



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