A new framework for control

The IPPC (Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control) Directive was adopted by the EU Council of Ministers in September 1996. It takes effect from October this year for new-build installations, with a phase-in period up to 2007 for existing facilities. In the first of three reports examining the Directive, UK implementation and the impact on industry, IEM talks to Peter Wicks of the European Commission's DG XI.

IPPC, the European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, has its roots firmly in the UK, in the form of IPC Regulations in place here since 1990, and in the French Installations Classées. Integrated together, following negotiation, counsel and accounting for differences across Member States, the two became the IPPC Directive in 1996.

Holistic approach

The purpose of IPPC, in its own terms, is to “achieve integrated prevention and control of pollution arising from the activities listed in Annex I [see inset, ‘Who is affected’]. It lays down measures designed to prevent or, where that is not practicable, to reduce emissions in the air, water and land from the above mentioned activities…in order to achieve a high level of protection of the environment taken as a whole.”

Whereas many national permitting systems tend to address separate specific concerns – such as air, water or soil pollution, or specific processes on a particular site – IPPC offers a more holistic approach via the regulation of complete installations. Thus, according to the directive, “whereas different approaches to controlling emissions into the air, water or soil separately may encourage the shifting of pollution between the various environmental media rather then protecting the environment as a whole”, IPPC aims to identify “appropriate” preventive or pollution control measures, “without prescribing the use of one specific technique or technology, and taking into consideration the technical characteristics of the installation concerned, its geographical location and local environmental conditions”. Including the use of raw materials, energy efficiency, waste minimisation, accident reduction and noise/vibration levels.

Permitting systems

And so to the mechanics. “I think it is fair to say that permitting systems, although not always what politicians talk most about, probably form the backbone of environmental regulation in industry in most Member States,” says Wicks. “Ultimately, IPPC is about getting the permitting system right.”

IPPC, being a European Directive rather than a Regulation, and so addressed to Member States rather than being directly applicable, has to be transposed into national laws, albeit to deadlines. In this way, general principles are upheld, but taking account of different national contexts in the way that implementation should proceed. IPPC sets a number of minimum requirements for permitting systems in the Member States. Article 3 of the Directive sets out the general principles governing the basic obligations of the operator. Any permitting system must ensure that:

  • all the appropriate preventive measures are taken against pollution, in particular through application of best available technologies;
  • no significant pollution is caused;
  • waste production is avoided; where waste is produced, it is recovered or, where that is technically and economically impossible, it is disposed of while avoiding or reducing any impact on the environment;
  • energy is used efficiently;
  • the necessary measures are taken to prevent accidents and limit their consequences;
  • the necessary measures are taken upon definitive cessation of activities to avoid any pollution risk and return the site of operation to a satisfactory state.

In other words, according to Wicks: “In all cases you must at least make sure that the pollution is kept down to an acceptable level. Then you have got an obligation concerning the avoidance and management of waste, with reference to the waste hierarchy: prevent, recycle, recover or dispose; you have got an obligation to use energy efficiently; you have got an obligation to prevent accidents and to mitigate any consequences; and finally you have got an obligation to return the site to a satisfactory state after closure. In general terms, those are the obligations that the Directive sets on the operator. You are probably thinking that it is all very vague and very general, but what are operators actually obliged to do? That is where the more detailed provisions and the permitting system come into effect.”

Operator obligations

Article 6 of the Directive contains a long list of information that the operator has to include in his application for a permit, including information on the installation and its activities, materials, energy use, emissions, conditions and more. Article 6 also demands a non-technical summary, consistent with the principal of public access to, and participation in, the permitting process.

“A permit can only be granted if the obligations on the operator are going to be met,” says Wicks, “which requires the setting of conditions, most notably on emission limits. Such emission limit values, technical measures or equivalent parameters must be based upon best available techniques. This is where the concept of BAT most concretely enters into the Directive.”

To ensure that standards are upheld across Europe, and to further develop the much vaunted ‘level playing field’, BAT is to be defined on a pan-European basis. In the terms of the Directive, ‘best’ is interpreted as “most effective in achieving a high general level of protection of the environment as a whole”; ‘available’ techniques refers to those “developed on a scale which allows implementation in the relevant industrial sector, under economically and technically viable conditions, taking into consideration the costs and advantages [as opposed to ‘Not Entailing Excessive Cost’], whether or not the techniques are used or produced inside the Member State in question, as long as they are reasonably accessible to the operator”; and ‘techniques’ includes both the technology used and the way in which the installation is designed, built, maintained, operated and decommissioned.

BREF notes

Companies will be obliged to employ BAT. However, in order to encourage the free circulation of information on new technologies and methodologies, the European Commission itself is required, under IPPC, to establish a BAT information exchange together with Member States and industry. The Commission established the European IPPC Bureau (EIPPCB) in Seville to co-ordinate the production of BAT Reference Documents (BREFs) sector by sector, of which more than 30 are covered by the Directive. Following the first meeting in December 1996, work on the BREFs began in 1997, with the first one, Iron and Steel, expected at DG XI this month.

It should be pointed out here that national authorities should not prescribe a particular technology, but instead determine BAT and establish emissions values and conditions on that basis. If industry can meet those conditions and values another way, then, under the Directive, it is free to do so – a measure geared towards enabling a degree of flexibility, within parameters, and the encouragement of innovation.

Wicks goes further: “It also provides a mechanism to swap information with other countries on the relative successes of permitting systems. One common view is that in countries like Germany and Austria, you tend to have more ambitious conditions in the permit, but relatively lax compliance monitoring. Whereas in the UK, people often say that the conditions are lenient compared to other countries, but more stringently regulated. The BREFs themselves is one product, but another is simply the exchange of information, which has never really happened to the same extent before. These issues don’t sound very concrete, but will probably emerge as some of the most important impacts of IPPC.

“There is a trade off between the level playing field and giving the flexibility which allows the most intelligent solutions to arise, case by case. The big challenge is how to manage that trade-off. I think what IPPC is all about is harmonising the approach; harmonising the level of standards in a qualitative sense while as far as possible not being too prescriptive about the quantitative. Other directives are setting the quantified minimum standards across the board, as a kind of backstop to safeguard against abuse of the flexibility of IPPC. What we need to do with IPPC is get as much information as possible on what is really happening on the ground in the Member States, to see whether that harmonisation approach is necessary; to see whether the quantitative conditions and the compliance monitoring backing them up are there. It is a question of finding the right mechanisms to get our hands on the right information in a sufficiently systematic way to be able to draw some conclusions.”

Who is affected?

The DETR estimates that 7,000 installations in England and Wales will require permits under IPPC: 2,000 already subject to the existing Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) rules, 3,000 from waste sites currently regulated under waste management legislation, and 2,000 new entrants.

Specific production capacity thresholds determine whether an installation falls within the scope of IPPC, with the exception of those serving the chemicals industry and that of pulp and paper. Anybody producing these on an industrial scale is automatically covered by the directive.

Energy Industries

Metals Production and Processing

Mineral industry

Chemicals industry

Waste Management

Other Activities:

Production of pulp, paper and board

Fibre/textile pre-treatment



Food and milk

Animal carcasses

Poultry and pigs

Surface treatment using organic solvents

Carbon production

Installations or parts of installations used for research, development and testing of new products and processes are not covered by IPPC.

BREF notes

It is the intention to develop a series of reference documents over a period of at least five years to cover, as far as practicable, the activities listed in Annex I to the Directive. The work programme consists of a number of work sectors each year as determined by the Information Exchange Forum (IEF), a body consisting of representatives from Member States, industry and environmental non-governmental organisations. Each sector is addressed by a specific Technical Working Group (TWG) established for the duration of the work. The documents drafted by the EIPPCB will be circulated around the TWGs for comment before being submitted to DG XI of the Commission and being further considered by the IEF. It is the intention to translate the final documents into all languages of the European Union and publish them for widespread use.

Work programme

1997 – Iron and Steel; Pulp and Paper; Cement and Lime; Cooling Systems.

1998 – Chlor-Alkali; Ferrous Metal Processing; Non-Ferrous Metal Processes; Glass; Tanneries; Textiles; Monitoring Systems.

1999 – Refineries; Large Volume Organic Chemicals; Large Volume Gaseous and Liquid Inorganic Chemicals; Smitheries and Foundries; Intensive Livestock Farming; Emissions from Storage of Bulk or Dangerous Materials; Common Wastewater and Waste Gas Treatment/ Management Systems in the Chemical Sector; Economic and Cross Media Issues.

2000 (draft) – Large Volume Solid Inorganic Chemicals; Slaughterhouse/Animal Carcasses; Food and Milk.

2001 (draft) – Coal Liquefaction; Asbestos; Ceramics; Polymers; Surface Treatment of Metals; Surface Treatments Using Solvents.

2002 (draft) – Speciaity Inorganic Chemicals; Organic Fine Chemicals; Landfills.

Note: As of last month (June 1999) the timetable for Large Combustion Plants, Hazardous Waste Incineration, Municipal Waste Incineration and Non-hazardous Waste Disposal is under review following policy developments. The proposal under consideration is to address large combustion plant in 2000, all waste incineration in 2001 and other waste recovery/disposal in 2002.

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