Meacher warns of changing contracts under impact of Directive targets

The Government is looking to industry to meet admittedly tough targets to increase recycling and reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, Michael Meacher told a recent waste management conference, adding that contract conditions might have to change to ensure that waste was being diverted from landfill.

Environment Minister Michael reiterated the main points of the Waste Strategy for England and Wales at last month’s National Consensus Conference on meeting the challenge of implementing the Landfill Directive.

He stated “The national waste strategy is absolutely central to the Government’s agenda. It is the key to delivering a better quality of life and sustainable future for all.”

“We need to tackle waste growth, and to make the best use of the waste that is produced. Our strategy is to radically increase the reuse and recycling of waste resources and to curb landfill,” he added.

The Minister said that the Government had put in place a framework that would deliver. Based on the concepts of the waste hierarchy and the Best Practical Environmental Option, it sets out how councils should plan their waste services and how the planning system should be operated to deliver those facilities that are needed to manage our waste effectively.

He said that the government had provided major extra funding through this year’s Spending Review to support the environmental and cultural services of councils, including waste. There would also be a separate £140 million fund specifically for local authority waste and recycling.

“We have negotiated and set testing targets for reduced landfill and more recycling,” the Minister told the conference arranged by the ESA, organised by the Environmental Services Training & Education Trust (ESTET) and sponsored by Grundon.

He underlined that “for the first time ever there will be statutory targets on individual councils for the recycling of household waste. Overall, council recycling will double in three years and triple in five. We are consulting now on those targets. Targets for later years will be reviewed in 2005 and made even tougher if we feel further progress is possible and needed.”

More industrial and commercial waste would also be recycled, the Minister said. “We want recycling to be the cornerstone of waste management in future. This is fundamental sustainable resource use.”

He warned, however, that it could not happen unless it was economically viable. The potential was there, but artificial barriers were holding us back. These barriers were based on technology, on a lack of information, on lack of information, or industry capacity or structure, “or just plain failure to invest.”

The Minister said: “We are committed to overcoming these barriers. We have promised £30 million of government for WRAP – the Waste and Resources Action Programme.”

WRAP’s first chairman is Vic Cocker, previously Chief Executive of Severn Trent plc.

He said expected to see WRAP funded by the waste industry, both directly and through the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme.

On that theme he also said that under the Waste Strategy the government would introduce, with the industry, indicative guidelines on the proportion of Landfill Tax Credits which ought to go to support sustainable development objectives and recycling. He hoped these would be in place soon but believed: “It is clearly in the interests of both society in general and the waste industry if landfill operators review their allocation of credits now.”

Landfill Directive

Michael Meacher continued: “WRAP’s role is made doubly important by the landfill directive we negotiated with our European partners. Over the next two decades we must reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste we send to landfill to only 35% of the amount of the waste we produced in 1995.” He acknowledged, “in the context of a still continuing growth in waste, this is a very stiff target.”

Turning to the introduction of the system of tradable permits to be issued to councils, the Minister said: “The permits will limit the amount of this waste councils can send to landfill, reducing over time to ensure that waste is diverted and that the UK complies with this legal obligation under the directive.

“We shall consult on our proposals for this legislation later this year,” he continued. “But the fact that the permits will be tradable will allow councils to determine themselves whether they should buy more permits from other councils or to invest so that they can handle more waste in other ways.”

He underlined the point that in practice, a council which banked on being able to buy permits and took no action to develop alternatives, “would be foolhardy in the extreme.”

Hazardous waste

He stated that the Landfill Directive also presented other challenges to the waste industry, with currently about half of all the hazardous waste generated in the UK disposed of in landfill sites.

“But the Directive will ban the landfill of certain hazardous wastes, all liquid wastes ands tyres,” the DETR Minister pointed out. “It also bans the co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes from 2004 and requires the pre-treatment of many wastes. Taken together, the result may be less landfill for hazardous in future may well cost more.” A consultation paper on these changes will be published shortly.

“This a is a time of challenge, change and opportunity. There will continue to be a major role for landfill, but it can no longer be the automatic mainstay it currently is,” he said.

Pressure to change contracts

The Environment Minister then raised an issue which is likely to cause concern within the waste management industry.

Michael Meacher told the conference, “Landfill operators will have to face up to the situation where their current customers may be forced by changes in the law to vary or terminate contracts if under them they have no leeway to divert their waste from landfill. We all know that the future is not in 20-year contracts for landfill.

“Long-term static contracts will be overtaken by the need for more flexible arrangements, perhaps offering incentives to deliver increasing rates of recycling. The future will not be comfortable. But it could be exciting.”

The Minister declared: “The industry must be proactive in updating old contracts, if new opportunities are to be exploited and the needs of clients are to be better met. It must plan and invest to be able to provide a wide range of services to its customers, and it must expect customers’ demands to change over time.”

This was “not a threat to the industry”, he told the delegates.

The new statutory targets for recycling and composting for local councils would bring new business opportunities. There were great potential markets for the enlightened in the industry.”

Taking up the theme of the conference, Michael Meacher called for waste industry “to rise to the challenge and meet customer demand for much higher levels of kerbside collection, recycling, composting and other alternatives to landfill.”

EU expectations

The impact of the targets being set under the Landfill Directive was spelt out by Ruth Frommer, Director, Industry and Environment at the European Commission, who told the conference: “Separate collection is a must. Without it we cannot begin to manage our waste properly.”

The view from Brussels was that the DETR’s Waste Strategy “provides a sound basis for implementation of the Landfill Directive.”

She said that the future focus would be on the management of waste streams.

Packaging, batteries, oils and end-of-vehicle life were currently in hand with electrical goods and biodegradable waste next on the table.

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