Sand, gravel and rock, with some exceptions...

A tax on the commercial exploitation of aggregate will come into effect 1 April 2002, requiring companies to register and pay for the environmental impacts of virgin aggregate extraction. Beverly La Ferla reports.

Independent research, commissioned under the previous government's Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), verified that there are significant environmental costs associated with quarrying that are not currently covered by regulation, such as noise, dust, visual intrusion, loss of amenity and damage to biodiversity.

But first, what is 'aggregate'? Defined by HM Customs & Excise, aggregate is deemed to be 'sand, gravel and rock, with some exceptions'. Currently, 240 million tonnes of aggregate is extracted annually, more than any other mineral - one reason why there is such a comprehensive list of exceptions to the rule. Exempted materials currently include other quarried or mined products such as coal, lignite, clay, shale and slate, soil or other organic matter, and minerals used in prescribed industrial or agricultural processes. In addition, blocks of stone and limestone will be exempt for the time being.

The Levy will affect anyone who is responsible for commercially exploiting aggregate in the UK and those who import aggregate from abroad and intend to sell or use it for construction purposes. In the words of James Robertson from the Environmental Taxation Department, "The government is aiming to shift the burden of tax from 'goods' like employment to 'bads' like environmental pollution." Exports of aggregate, however, will be relieved from the levy and imports taxed on first sale
in the UK, to protect international competitiveness.

The tax has currently been set at £1.60 per tonne of primary aggregate and is a one-stage, non-deductible tax, like both the landfill tax and the climate change levy, and while this may seem considerable, the DETR study calculated that the environmental costs caused by aggregate extraction amounted to the higher figure of £1.80 per tonne.

Recycled revenue
A total of £385m will be raised by the new levy and will be recycled back to business via a 0.1 percentage reduction in employer's National Insurance contributions and a new £35m Sustainability Fund, making the tax broadly neutral overall.

The Fund will be used to promote environmentally beneficial practices, such as the use of recycled aggregate, and deliver local environmental benefits to areas most subject to the environmental impacts of aggregates extraction and transportation, such as quarries and local community air quality. But, for the scheme to be self-sustainable in the long term, there needs to be a market for recycled aggregates. But does one exist?

There certainly appears to be one, currently led by cost considerations and not by legislation. Several companies have started to recycle waste aggregates, and in the process have reduced both landfill and raw material costs considerably.

Prior to 1996, BAA plc crushed waste concrete and sent it offsite, usually to landfill. According to Gerry Chick, development manager on BAA construction projects, re-use of aggregates within projects were usually precluded with excuses such as lack of time and insufficient quantities. "Uncertainty of availability was also a big factor but this was almost certainly due to poor planning," says Gerry. "Funnily enough, while there were practical barriers to success, the one I found the most difficult to overcome was the one in people's minds. People are surprisingly resistant to unconventional ways of doing things."

In 1996, to address the waste problem, a 'Pavement Team' was created to deal with the construction and renewal of airfield pavements. Instead of simply ordering more aggregate, the Team initiated measures that would not only help the environment, but save BAA a fortune. Stock piles were created at each airport and all used concrete crushed on-site. Stockpiles were managed by size and the resulting recycled aggregate used to build the pavements.

While the recycled aggregate from the concrete was traditionally used as a low-grade material for hardcore, it was easily converted to high-grade with low contamination, and replaced the 'type 1' raw material used in construction. A new 'lean' mix is now available for both wet and dry applications.

So far, 210,000 tonnes of concrete has been recycled, saving £1.8m in raw material costs and 42,000 lorry movements, a transport nightmare which would have been necessary to remove the used concrete and deliver virgin aggregate to the sites. And, as Gerry says, practicalities aren't the problem so if even you're not rushing out to recycle your concrete yet, the Aggregates Levy is bound to change your mind.


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