What will be the big issues in 2002?

Global warming and the struggle to meet ambitious environmental targets will continue to drive European and British policy into the New Year. Environmental regulators, local authorities and waste management services companies will have a full agenda over the next 12 months in dealing with tougher standards on air quality, the drive to meet recycling and waste minimisation targets, contaminated land and the impact of "best value" audits. LAWE looks into the crystal ball and spells out the issues that environmental professionals and waste managers will have to face during 2002

Anyone involved in environmental or waste management issues will need to be prepared to burn the midnight oil to keep pace with the reams of reports and consultation documents that the Government has issued or to which responses are expected into the New Year.

The findings of an evaluation of Phase 1 of the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) system commissioned by DEFRA and the Devolved Administrations, which is looking at what has worked well and what could usefully be improved, should be of considerable interest when they are completed early in March.

A highly significant report is expected to be published in the summer following DEFRA Secretary of State Margaret Beckett's announcement at last year's Waste Summit that she is to preside over a review of the Government's Waste Strategy by the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU).

Also due out early this year is the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's ongoing study on Environmental Planning. Next in line from the Royal Commission will be a study on the Long-term Effects of Chemicals in the Environment.

Crystal ball predictions
Expert interest groups helped LAWE peer into the crystal ball.

NSCA , for instance, expects that the DEFRA noise strategy will launch local authorities on the process of noise mapping or major urban areas' transport links and assessing people's exposure to noise.

Local authorities will start to plan for the introduction of low emission zones, as part of their air quality action plans and more polluting vehicles will be excluded from pollution hotspots by 2004/2005.

NSCA also anticipates that pilot work on local climate change action plans will be rolled out to more authorities.

Waste issues
Looking into the coming year, IWM flags up funding as continuing to be a major issue, with more legislation placing increasing pressure on the availability of funding and resources for waste management. The option of direct charging at the household level could be the subject of further debate.

The future of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme will be of significant importance to the sector as a whole, and the long awaited consultation paper on this will lead the way on what could be an interesting debate, as it is not clear what shape the scheme will take, or indeed what would be the future for the Landfill Tax itself after 2004.

However, IWM says that what is clear is that the industry is keen to see the positive aspects of the scheme being enhanced and more money made available to fund sustainable waste management projects.

New and alternative technology is likely to get a fillip as different approaches are taken to manage waste outside of landfill sites in preparation for target deadlines.

In the light of the health and risk studies relating to waste operations it seems likely that 2002 will see a revived interest in this area with an increased focus on health issues, which local and national government will need to address, particularly in the context of planning related issues.

Pretreatment under the Landfill Directive is also on the agenda of policy developments under consideration by the Environmental Industries Commission's (EIC) Integrated Waste Management Group along with other issues likely to continue to figure in the sector's discussions during the coming year, such as the operation of the £140 million recycling fund to be provided by DEFRA over the next two years, to help local authorities deliver their legal obligations to increase recycling.

Among many other current issues being addressed by the EIC Group are the operation and distribution of the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, under consultation, and draft technical guidance from the Environment Agency on Clinical Waste Facilities, which is the latest manifestation of attempts by Government to deal with this long-standing question, which, if past history is any guide, will run and run.

Equipment standards
The influence of EU legislation and standards reaches into every aspect of environment regulation and waste management operations, not least in the field of equipment and vehicles where low noise and emissions have a major impact on the design of RCVs and street cleaners.

The waste collection equipment manufacturers, represented by CHEM, which works within the industry to produce technical standards, such as its authoritative CHEM Guide, also have to comply with EU Directives. CHEM reports that it has recently completed noise regulation trials at MIRA in response to new European directives. Details are expected to be released later in the year when CHEM's figures and views have been finalised.

Focus on incineration
One of the most critical issues where heat will continue to be generated will be over the extent to which incineration, with or without energy recovery, can be applied to disposing of the UK's growing waste mountain.

As landfill sites dwindle and recycling schemes face hard going in making progress towards attaining national waste minimisation and recycling targets, such as recycling 25% of municipal waste by 2005, the omens do not look encouraging for the energy-from-waste lobby.

The recent decision by Surrey County Council's planning committee to give the go-ahead to only one of three proposed e-f-w plants, with the recommendation heavily qualified by constraints, is a clear indication of the current climate of opinion, where incineration is stigmatised in the view of many environmentalists as representing an unacceptable health hazard.

One certain prediction for the coming year is that the debate over burning waste will be fierce and prove a political timebomb for any Minister faced with the thankless task of weighing up whether or not a particular project should get the green light.


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