Lib Dems condemn government hazardous waste incompetence

Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Minister Sue Doughty has again condemned the government's incompetence in dealing with the changes to hazardous waste rulings after the implementation of the Landfill Directive in July.

Speaking at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Bournemouth, Ms Doughty warned that the severe lack of capacity for dealing with hazardous waste is likely to lead to a huge rise in illegal fly-tipping.

She quoted government figures which show that 4.8 million tonnes of hazardous waste were produced across England and Wales in 2002. However, because of the rule changes in July, the number of sites taking hazardous waste fell from over 200 to 11, and capacity to deal with waste fell to just 1.8 million tonnes.

This leaves a shortfall of 3 million tonnes of hazardous waste with nowhere to go.

“The hazardous waste crisis we are facing is the direct result of serious incompetence by DEFRA. It is scandalous that the government had five years to prepare for the new rules under the 1999 Landfill Directive, but failed to make sure there were specialist facilities ready in time. The result could be devastating for regions of England and Wales, with a huge rise in illegal fly-tipping by cowboy waste contractors. Serious questions must be asked of Ministers as to where this waste is going, what damage it could be doing to the environment and what threat it could be to human health.”

Ms Doughty also voiced the concerns of the Federation of Small Businesses who are worried that not enough has been done to inform all those who are to be newly classified as hazardous waste producers about the changes that will affect them.

“There are more changes due next year that will increase the types of waste classed as hazardous,” she said. “Even I will be a hazardous waste producer! If you have fluorescent tube lights in your office or computer screens that you are throwing out, you will be too.”

She also highlighted the fact that, under the ‘duty of care’ rules of the Landfill Directive, waste producers can be prosecuted if their waste is not disposed of properly, or if you employ a ‘cowboy’ waste contractor who fly tips the waste.

“The government must tackle the hazardous waste crisis before the environment suffers irreparable damage. Small and medium sized businesses desperately need support and information and the Environment Agency must be given adequate resources to deal with the inevitable increase in fly tipping,” Ms Doughty said.

Labour Environment Minister Elliot Morley, and Secretary of State for the Environment Margaret Beckett, are expected to address these issues in their respective speeches at next week’s Labour Party conference in Brighton.

By David Hopkins

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