How best to stay legal

A new report has been published, with the aim of keeping waste professionals abreast of legislation and their statutory duties. Caroline Hand outlines its content

There have been dramatic changes to waste management policy, legislation and practice in recent years, and many have impacted significantly on local authorities. These changes are documented and analysed in a new report which examines five areas of legislation and their implications for industrial and municipal waste producers. The five areas are:

  • changes to waste regulation
  • hazardous waste regulations
  • landfilling of hazardous waste
  • producer responsibility, with particular reference to end of life vehicles (ELVs) and waste electrical & electronic equipment (WEEE)
  • local authorities and municipal waste.

The report summarises recent legislation and gives detailed guidelines for industrial waste producers on hazardous waste assessment and compliance with waste acceptance procedures and criteria.

Trouble on the horizon

One section deals with the predicted shortfall in capacity for hazardous waste treatment and disposal. While the ‘hazardous waste crisis’ has not yet materialised, many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) remain ignorant of their new duties and may therefore run into serious difficulties as commonplace wastes like oily rags and soils contaminated with hydrocarbons are excluded from landfill.

Is hazardous waste being deliberately misclassified? A 2005 survey reveals that while consultants remain suspicious, waste producers have demonstrated resourcefulness in finding new treatment and recovery routes.

A particular problem for local authorities is that of newly hazardous wastes which include everyday items such as computer monitors and fluorescent tubes. LAs will have to ensure appropriate segregation, storage and recovery in compliance with both hazardous waste and WEEE regulations.

Though the latest delay in implementing WEEE has created a breathing space, resources for upgrading civic amenity sites remain an issue. The report singles out the problem of waste cathode ray tubes, which are both hazardous waste and WEEE, and for which markets are rapidly disappearing.

The report also points to the success of many LAs in substantially raising their recycling levels and meeting national targets, but will this be enough to meet the 2013 and 2020 Landfill Directive targets? The last chapter looks at the real obstacle to success – the shortage of new treatment and recovery capacity.

According to the Waste Strategy 2000, in order to meet targets, England and Wales would need between 100 and 300 MRFs averaging 40,000 tonnes per annum, between 100 and 200 composting facilities averaging 30,000 tonnes per annum, and between 30 and 160 incinerators averaging 250,000 tonnes per annum.

Even with the latest, more optimistic predictions of household waste growth, there appears no possibility of achieving the necessary increase in recovery capacity, bearing in mind the lead times for waste management projects. Recent tweaks to the planning system via PPS 10 may speed up progress, but it is probably too little, too late.

Also examined is mechanical-biological treatment, and how it is falling foul of the Waste Incineration Directive. Waste-derived fuel or compost created by the process is still ‘waste’ requiring disposal in a licensed or permitted facility, which for the ‘fuel’ must be WID-compliant. Without a change in the law, it seems that LAs have only postponed the need for new – and unpopular – energy-from-waste capacity.

Mixed messages

The report also touches on the broader issues of the UK and EU environmental agenda, and the competence of legislators in implementing and communicating directives. Sadly there are recurrent themes of inadequate communication, muddle and delay with the landfill and WEEE directives, and doubts regarding the environmental benefits of some measures.

The Government’s review of its Waste Strategy 2000, which has involved a wide range of stakeholders, has been eagerly anticpiated. It can only be hoped that the European Commission will also learn the lessons of the past as it fleshes out its new waste strategy.

  • Waste Management – the New Legislative Climate by Caroline Hand is available from Thorogood Publications. For details go to:

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