Changes to the Management of Hazardous Waste – Is Industry Ready?
Edward Perry and Jennifer Boniface of Golder Associates, highlight the issues, facing industry, surrounding the new landfill regulations.
In 2001, almost 2.5 million tonnes of special waste was disposed of, to landfills in England and Wales. However, there are going to be significant changes in the way this waste is managed and disposed of in 2004. These changes are likely to have major financial implications for UK companies.
Waste that is considered to be particularly dangerous to human health or the environment is currently classed as Special Waste. The movement of Special Waste is currently regulated by the Special Waste Regulations 19961. The disposal of Special Waste is regulated by waste management licences, which are issued to waste disposal facilities detailing what waste types may be accepted.
The Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 (Landfill Regulations) introduced the term ‘Hazardous Waste’ to replace Special Waste. Landfills are now classed as either:
- Hazardous, those landfills able to accept only hazardous waste after July 2004;
- Non-hazardous, those landfills that will not be allowed to accept hazardous waste after July 2004;
- Inert, those landfills that are only allowed to accept inert waste, i.e. not biodegradable;
A review of Special Waste Regulations has been undertaken with a view to producing new Hazardous Waste Regulations, which are likely to be produced in the first half of 2004.
The requirements of the European Hazardous Waste Directive will be implemented through any new regulations. This will include an expanded definition of hazardous waste and the possibility of new responsibilities for producers of hazardous waste.
Disposal to Landfill
45% of hazardous waste was disposed of to landfills in 2001. There are currently a large number of landfills across the country that are able to accept hazardous waste of varying types, this includes things such as used oil, heavily contaminated soils and organic chemicals.
The number of landfills able to take this waste will be reduced to a handful of sites after the 16th July 2004. Only landfill sites classed as hazardous will be able to take hazardous waste from this date. This reduction in sites will inevitably mean higher prices for the disposal of hazardous waste. This price increase will be exacerbated by the increase in distances that most of the waste will have to travel to be disposed of to landfill.
In addition, there is a requirement in the Landfill Regulations that from the 16th July 2004 all hazardous waste being disposed of to landfill must be pre-treated to reduce either the volume or the hazardous nature of the waste. This could either be carried out by the waste producer or by the collection/disposal company. This is likely to increase the cost of waste disposal further.
There will be a further cost to hazardous waste producers that wish to dispose of their waste to landfill. The Landfill Regulations require waste to be characterised before it is sent to landfill so that the landfill operator is able to ascertain whether they are allowed to accept the waste.
Changes to wastes consigned as hazardous waste
Any new regulations on hazardous waste will alter the definition of special/hazardous waste. This will have the effect of expanding the number of wastes that are classified as hazardous. For example, fluorescent tubes are not currently special waste but are classed as hazardous waste. The number of companies producing hazardous waste is therefore, also likely to expand. Further informant on whether a waste is defined as hazardous can be found in the Environment Agency Technical Guidance WM25.
Hazardous landfills have limits placed on the composition of the wastes that they are able to accept. One of the limiting factors that is likely to have a significant effect is that the hazardous waste is not allowed to have a Total Organic Carbon content greater than 6%. This is likely to reduce the amount of oily and tarry waste, including waste such as heavily contaminated soils that hazardous landfills are able to accept. The full requirements have been defined at EU level through Council Decision establishing criteria and procedures for the acceptance of waste at landfills pursuant to Article 16 and Annex II of Directive 1999/31/EC6 and are about to be implemented in England and Wales through an amendment to the Landfill Regulations.
Reducing the effects
It is possible that the effects of these changes to the management and disposal of hazardous waste can be reduced. It may be possible for hazardous waste producers to:
- Eliminate the use of hazardous materials;
- Substitute the use of hazardous materials with non-hazardous or less hazardous materials;
- Minimise the quantity of hazardous waste produced by altering the process producing the waste;
- Reduce the hazard of the waste by treating it on site prior to disposal. If the hazardous nature is reduced sufficiently it may become non-hazardous.
If one or more of these actions can be carried out before the 16th July 2004, waste producers should be able to mitigate any increase in price for the disposal of hazardous waste.
With the reduction in the number of landfill sites able to accept hazardous waste and the restriction in the waste they will be able to accept, there may be some wastes that become much more difficult to dispose of, irrespective of any price increase.
One of the requirements currently included in the Review of Special Waste Regulations carried out by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is the registration of all Hazardous Waste producers. There would be a fee associated with this to cover the administration by the Environment Agency with the possibility of audits by the Environment Agency.
If businesses eliminate the production of hazardous waste, the requirement for registration as a hazardous waste producer can be avoided in addition to the impact of the price increases. A strategic approach will be required so that any necessary changes can be introduced before the 16th July 2004.
2.5 million tonnes of hazardous waste is currently disposed of to landfill. In future the cost of disposing of this waste will increase due to:
- Reduced numbers of landfills allowed to accept hazardous waste;
- Increased transportation distances;
- Laboratory testing of waste to determine its composition; and
- The requirement for the waste to be pre-treated
Additional costs may include Environment Agency fees for the registration as a hazardous waste producer. In addition, through a greater understanding of the new requirements a company can avoid running the risk of paying unnecessarily high disposal costs when there may be an alternative available. This is where an independent expert consultancy will prove invaluable. For example, Golder Associates offers a range of services that will assess whether hazardous waste can be eliminated or neutralised prior to its disposal. Without such help from independent consultancies, there is every chance that a company will end up paying spiralling disposal costs.
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