Actions speak louder than words

A new report has been published for the Environment Agency and government's Hazardous Waste Forum, which calls for immediate action to deal with the impending problem of hazardous waste disposal. Jason Rayfield reports.

Ever since the introduction, in June last year of the Landfill Directive, the fate of some two million tonnes of hazardous waste which is produced in the UK, has been hotly debated by government, industry and regulators.

The government responded by setting up a Hazardous Waste Forum, which aims to adopt a strategic role in considering the demands on industry of existing and forthcoming legislation. The Forum was also set up to consider targets for hazardous waste reduction and recovery, and to provide a means of bringing all relevant sectors together to work towards the goals of hazardous waste reduction and managing it safely.

The report, Hazardous waste management market pressures and opportunities sets out the major challenges facing the UK government, industry and regulators, as they prepare for several European Directives relating to hazardous waste and the options for their management, which are currently coming through the pipeline. The findings provide a basis upon which the Environment Agency can inform the government’s Hazardous Waste Forum, and prioritise broader actions for change.

Hazardous waste

One significant Directive on landfilling hazardous waste is currently being phased in. A major change is due to come into force from 2004. The report highlights how ‘from this time’ the market will ‘change markedly’, when co-disposal of hazardous wastes in landfill sites must stop. Scenario analysis suggests this will lead to:

  • an increase in costs of hazardous waste disposal;

  • the need for a substantial increase in waste minimisation; and

  • a significant need for increased treatment capacity.

Roy Watkinson, hazardous waste policy manager at the Environment Agency, says: “The way in which hazardous wastes are to be managed in the future is set to change significantly. Landfill has always been the cheap option, but this has led to a severe over dependency. The Landfill Directive is the signal for change. To give you some perspective: currently over 200 sites accept hazardous waste – after 2004 there will be about a dozen in operation.”

Environment Agency data shows that landfilling of hazardous waste dropped by just six per cent between 1998/9 and 2000, with 40 per cent still being sent to landfill.

Each year more than 5.2 million tonnes of hazardous waste is produced in England and Wales – largely by the construction, chemicals, electronics and lubricant oil industries – and it is growing by an estimated eight per cent per year.

The nation’s love of technology and the short shelf-life of electronic equipment means that the electronics sector in particular is expected to have a dramatic growth in waste production and consequently hazardous waste, with projections suggesting increases of over 16 per cent over the next 10 years from this sector alone.

Hazardous waste production is likely to come from new sources too, as revised classification lists and new waste streams are brought under hazardous waste controls.

Industry experts have suggested that 5-10 per cent – or 260,000-520,000 tonnes – of all hazardous waste could be prevented through waste minimisation initiatives.

Roy Watkinson continues: “There are opportunities for industry. Industry can begin to prepare by looking for voluntary waste minimisation initiatives, which can be put in place. It can be done. It is already commonplace within the chemical industry.”

Turning to the report itself, it identifies areas for investigation where information and industry responses to the changes occurring are not fully quantified. The study has not sought to provide a definitive analysis of how the hazardous waste market will develop.

Legislative impact

Underpinning the study has been a review of the issues arising from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee on Hazardous Waste. These issues include considering the impact of legislation and improving data on hazardous waste production and management. The review includes a number of scenarios for hazardous waste management over the next five years.

The report identifies a number of issues for discussion and action. The first being that the waste management industry is currently experiencing increased business risks associated with economic performance. The current cost of capital, delays associated with gaining planning permission and a perceived lack of enforcement of unscrupulous operators, means that the industry is unlikely to invest in new, large-scale treatment capacity, without absolute market certainty, ie the point at which material is being stockpiled. A common call from these operators is that regulations need to be enforced consistently across the board so that a level economic playing field is provided. In the short to medium-term, the industry will seek to work closer with waste producers to deliver on-site or localised solutions, and also with the water and cement industries, to provide an integrated network of reception facilities for hazardous wastes.

The market could change markedly in 2004 when co-disposal of hazardous waste must cease. The result will be an increase in costs of hazardous waste disposal and the need for a substantial increase in waste minimisation. Significant additional treatment capacity will be required over and above what is currently available, potentially of the order of two million tonnes per annum. Further investigation is needed to substantiate this figure and to establish the nature of treatment required.

There remains considerable uncertainty around the impact that the proposed changes to the classification of hazardous wastes will have on the number and type of producers, and the quantities of material generated in the UK.

Accurate data

In common with many EU Member States, the UK suffers from a lack of accurate data on hazardous waste arisings and the availability and capacity of facilities to deal with it. Improvements in this are key to better understanding of the likely future conditions. Ideally integrated data management systems are required that deliver timely and accurate information to support strategy formulation and investment decision making.

Some forthcoming legislation will lead to a phased reduction in the quantities of hazardous materials entering the waste management supply chain. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), End of Life vehicles (ELV), Solvent Emissions (SED), Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) and Batteries Directives all place controls on the input and treatment of hazardous substances within product streams. Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) should lead to a reduction in the quantities of hazardous waste generated. However, the impact of these will take up to 10 years to be fully realised.

And finally, a list of priority wastes to be investigated further in the short-term is presented including oily sludges, waste mineral oils, contaminated soils and asbestos, and air pollution control (APC) residues from waste incineration processes.

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