A hazardous undertaking

The UK’s environment agencies have published a document set to change the way hazardous waste is assessed. Jason Rayfield speaks to the Environment Agency about the management and disposal issues for manufacturing industry.

Since the introduction of the landfill and hazardous waste directives, manufacturing industry has been forced to totally re-examine the way it deals with the numerous hazardous wastes it produces. The favoured methods of landfill and co-disposal will soon disappear completely, to be replaced by a regulatory regime which demands that industry classifies all its wastes according to strict criteria, then looks at alternative methods of disposal.

The new guidance, produced by the Environment Agency (EA), Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service (NIEHS), aims to allow industry and authorities to make sound and consistent technical and regulatory judgements when gauging how hazardous a batch of waste is.

The publication, which has also been the subject of consultation between the agencies and those who produce and manage waste, clarifies existing criteria for classification – providing standards, techniques and tests for determining the relevant characteristics of hazardous wastes.

Speaking on behalf of all three agencies, Steve Lee, the EA’s head of waste, says: “The new guidance is the result of both a European-wide review and the Hazardous Waste Directive. It will impact on regulations surrounding landfill, incineration and pollution prevention and control as well as new legislation like the End Of Life Vehicle and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directives.

“This guidance is designed to be used as a point of reference for all legislation that makes reference to hazardous waste and its management. It will be a vital tool for those involved in the production, management and control of hazardous waste in the UK.”

Regulatory information

If there is one area where industry and regulators haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, it is the issue of the implementation of new legislation, coupled with the available information and guidance to help cushion the blow for industry.

But it would seem that, in this case at least, help is at hand. Nick Bethel is hazardous waste policy advisor to the Environment Agency, and speaking to IEM, makes the point that: “The task of equipping stakeholders with all the information they need is, to put it bluntly, not an easy one. But the EA does have a communications plan to reach stakeholders which is being formulated as we speak”. He adds, “By doing this, the Agency aims to reach all affected industries through a variety of channels, including engaging with the numerous trade associations to ensure their members are kept fully informed.”

As is evident from the table below, there are a series of steps involved in determining if a waste is hazardous or non-hazardous. A process which is made easier in the document by the inclusion of a definition of the Hazardous Waste Directive (HWD): “The aim of the HWD is to provide a precise and uniform European-wide definition of hazardous waste and to ensure the correct management and regulation of such waste. The starting point of the HWD is to identify which wastes are deemed to be hazardous.”

The document continues, “In 1994 a comprehensive list of all wastes, hazardous or otherwise, was produced, which is known as the European Waste Catalogue (EWC). It was then identified which of the wastes on EWC 1994 were deemed to be hazardous, based on the properties set out in the HWD. The resulting list of wastes was called the Hazardous Waste List (HWL) and was the list defining hazardous waste required by Article 1(4) of the HWD.”

The document also points out the importance of the Revised European Waste Catalogue (EWC2002), which is defined as a “Catalogue of all wastes, grouped according to generic industry, process or waste type.” It is the EWC 2002 against which waste should be assessed, which is illustrated in the Hazardous Waste Assessment Methodology below.

Regulatory compliance

Bearing all this information in mind, the issue of compliance is one which needs to be addressed, as the potential pitfalls for industry are far greater the more it needs to change its practices. The Environment Agency, which has the unenviable task of policing the new directives and ensuring industrial compliance, has always taken a hard line with industrial non-compliance, and this looks set to continue, as Mr Bethel explains: “Each facility which we inspect operates under a permit, and we are endeavouring to carry out more waste producer visits, to offer advice and ensure a higher level of compliance.

“The government is currently reviewing the special waste regulations, and the Agency welcomes these changes, because they should free our resources from administrative duties and mean we can devote more energy to waste producer visits.”

Bethel is also adamant that the Agency is, whenever possible, making the case for prosecuting rogue companies in a “full and robust manner”. “We have made a number of successful prosecutions under the Hazardous Waste Directive”, he states.

Transition period

The introduction of the Landfill and Hazardous Waste directives will require a fundamental change in the way industry manages and disposes of its wastes, and unfortunately this period of transition could create uncertainty and lead to more companies breaking the law. On the problem of fly-tipping, Mr Bethel states: “Of course we are aware of the potential for an increase in fly-tipping and other illegal dumping of waste, but we are committed to working with industry to ensure this does not occur.

“Also, in the short-term, landfill costs will rise, but again the EA will work to produce clear guidance to set timescales, and the government is working with the waste management industry to ensure a stable market for waste treatment and disposal.”

The hazardous waste technical guidance, while being comprehensive in its own right, forms only a small part of the overall campaign to ensure a smooth transition to a new way of working with waste. The key point for all of manufacturing industry that produces hazardous waste is that it will need to develop new techniques and technologies for treating such wastes, and that this coupled with the changing landfill situation will inevitably mean an increase in expenditure. The payoff will be regulatory compliance and ultimately environmental protection, but as ever this will involve looking long-term, which in a beleagured sector such as manufacturing, will require a huge commitment from all involved.

Mr Bethel concludes: “The last thing the Agency, or anyone for that matter, wants is for manufacturing industry to suffer, which would be to the detriment of UK Plc. My advice to industry is to make use of the guidance available and also to talk to waste disposal contractors about the most cost-effective ways to ensure regulatory compliance.”

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