Hazardous waste needs step-change away from landfill

The amount of hazardous waste sent to landfill dropped by only 6% in 2000 on the previous year’s amount, according to the latest data for hazardous waste in England and Wales. A much bigger drop is needed if we are to meet impending European legislation, says the Environment Agency, especially as the volume is set to increase due to a new classification scheme.

The amount of hazardous waste produced in England and Wales increased by 8% between 1998-9, when records for hazardous waste began, and 2000, according to the Agency’s latest figures. However, after July 2004 landfill capacity for hazardous waste in the UK will be reduced dramatically when the number of landfills able to take such waste will decrease from around 200 to less than 50. Although the higher cost of treating waste and other methods of disposal should be an incentive to cut waste production, it is also likely to increase the risk of fly-tipping, says Steve Lee, Head of Waste Policy at the Environment Agency.

“Dealing with hazardous waste could become a real problem,” said Lee. The low cost of landfill has lead to an over-dependency on it.

“We need to see a much more significant reduction in hazardous waste production at source, much greater use of separation of the hazardous fragments from waste streams and a much faster shift to alternative treatment and disposal options,” said Lee.

In 2000, 5.2 million tones of hazardous waste were either disposed of or recovered in England and Wales, 40% of which was landfilled, 30% received some sort of treatment, 19% was recycled or re-used, 8% was recorded as ‘transfer’ – in the short-term, and 3% was incinerated.

Of this, 21% was oil and oil-water mixtures, 50% of which received some sort of treatment, nearly 20% landfilled, and 15% recycled or reused. Twenty percent of hazardous waste in 2000 was from construction and demolition – such as contaminated soils and asbestos, 95% of which was landfilled, accounting for almost half of all hazardous waste going to landfill in 2000. Eleven percent of hazardous waste was from organic chemical processes, 40% being treated, 20% recycled, and 17% landfilled.

A further 14% of hazardous waste fell into the ‘not otherwise specified’ category, the majority being ballast water, tank cleaning and oil rig clean-up liquid wastes from ship-to-shore pipelines. More than 70% was recycled.

Other significant categories of waste include: 6% from the waste and water treatment and water industry; 6% from inorganic chemical processes; 3% as paints, varnishes, adhesives and inks; and 3% were from thermal processes.

Last week the Government announced the formation of a new hazardous waste forum to advise on the reduction and safe management of such wastes in the UK (see related story). The Environment Agency has welcomed the move, stating that it will participate fully in the new forum.

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