Scotland to handle more waste from Northern Ireland

A second local authority in Northern Ireland has sanctioned the use of a Scottish landfill site to receive its household waste as a result of the shortage of facilities locally, which has forced up disposal costs significantly compared with Scotland.

Last week, North Down borough council awarded a three-year contract for

30/000 tonnes per year of household waste to a contractor who plans to use a Scottish landfill site until local sites become available. This will bring the council an overall saving of £500,000 over the contract period, a spokeswoman told edie. She said this option proved to be the cheapest and nearest available site for disposal, taking into account possible sites in the Republic of Ireland.

Friends of the Earth has condemned the situation, saying it is a reflection of the failure of the Northern Ireland Executive’s Department of Environment (DoE) to implement a waste management strategy; and goes against commitments to the proximity principle of ensuring waste management facilities cater for local needs.

North Down will be following Ballymena borough council, which currently sends around 400 t/week of waste to a landfill site in Ayrshire, Scotland.

This arrangement began in February, after the council’s waste management contractor began to have difficulties securing cost-effective local sites.

Ballymena is currently using emergency capacity to handle the rest of its production. Quoting cost differences of £26 per tonne locally compared with

£10 per tonne in Scotland, Alex Kinghorn, chief environmental health officer at Ballymena told edie, that economics played a significant part in the switch to Scotland. He said council officers checked the Scottish landfill site and were satisfied with the disposal route.

The current crisis in Northern Ireland’s landfill capacity can be traced back to the foot and mouth epidemic, according to a spokesman at the Northern Ireland Executive. Pressure on personnel and restricted access delayed by a year the production of a national strategy, which is now due to be finalised in the autumn. During this time available disposal space has been running out with no imminent replacement by new facilities.

Responding to Friends of the Earth’s call for action on long distance transfer of waste, Dermot Nesbitt, Minister of the Environment in Northern Ireland, said: “It would not be appropriate for a minister to override a contractual agreement legally entered into. The local district council is not acting illegally in moving waste from one part of the UK to another.”

The DoE said that it is totally untrue to suggest that Northern Ireland is not dealing with its waste problem. “We have a comprehensive waste management strategy in operation. We acknowledge that under previous administrations waste management was not taken as seriously as other issues – e.g. politics and security. We also acknowledge that much more needs to be done regarding waste in NI but that these are issues which the strategy is robustly addressing.”

In Scotland where Friends of the Earth says there is anger over the prospect of increased imports of waste, the proximity principle is enshrined in Scotland’s existing national waste strategy published in 1999, according to FoE’s Head of Research, Dr Richard Dixon. He wants SEPA to collect data centrally from waste transfer notes to establish a national database on waste movements in order to be able to meet future proximity-principle aims.

However a spokesman for the Scottish Executive, told edie that the origin of waste deposited at a licensed site is a commercial matter for the site operator. Also, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), which monitors waste management in Scotland, currently has no powers to control the origin of waste in the UK. A spokeswoman for SEPA said that the issue of proximity is being discussed in the current development of the country’s new national waste strategy for area waste plans.

Scotland is due to finalise a national strategy this autumn based on 11 individual area waste plans established through a partnership approach involving local government, the industry and other interested parties (see related story).

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