Waste & Recycling – review of the year 2005

2005 was a busy year in the world of waste and recycling, as industry geared up for the arrival of Europe's new WEEE regs and their enormous impact, PFI waste contracts mushroomed in the UK and the issue of illegal waste exports refused to go away.

As seemed to be the case across the board in the environmental sector, the year began with light apparently visible at the end of the tunnel and a raft of positive legislation on the horizon.

And, again mirroring developments elsewhere, by the time we were ringing in the New Year much of it had fallen by the wayside.

The long-anticipated Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations are a case in point.

The European regulations will control the disposal of e-waste and see the introduction of a ‘producer pays’ principle and while it is generally accepted they will benefit the environment, and the consultants who will advise industry on how to comply, fears have been raised by manufacturers that they would struggle to be ready in the timescale originally sketched out (see related story).

An obliging DTI has put back the date for the introduction of the regulations with reassuring regularity (see related story) and wound up the year with yet another announcement that industry would be given a further period of grace to prepare for WEEE.

In the UK 2005 was the rise of the PFI contract, with rivals bidding for lucrative, lengthy deals to service waste authorities up and down the country.

Many of the larger contracts have demanded considerable capital investment but the payback and promise of a guaranteed customer for years to come have meant they have nevertheless been a very attractive prospect for the big players in the waste and recycling field.

The biggest PFI contract yet, to work with the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority, is worth an estimated £4 billion and highlighted the growing trend for consortium bidding, usually combining expertise in construction of facilities, their operation once complete and the structure of the PFI agreements themselves (see related story).

The arrival of the Clean Neighbourhoods Act again promised new powers for British councils keen to tackle eco-crime (see related story ) but how widely they will be enforced remains to be seen.

If nothing else the law looks set to target professional fly tippers and make householders think twice before using their services (see related story).

While many local authorities may have been revelling in their new powers, there was one which was still having to fight for more clout when it came to managing waste in its area.

The Greater London Authority and mayor Ken Livingstone have been arguing the case for a Single Waste Authority for the city, a prickly subject which has sparked a feisty reaction from both sides of the fence.

Existing waste managers have argued the scale of the project and differing needs of the city’s borough would make it an unworkable and costly folly (see related story) while powerful supporters have stressed a holistic approach can make the city more efficient (see related story).

The fate of our waste was catapulted into the limelight towards the end of the year, as the BBC broadcast a television documentary portraying the export of recyclables as the industry’s dirty little secret.

While the piece was criticised for inaccuracies and failing to paint a complete picture, it did provide a valuable service in rekindling the debate over whether it is acceptable to ship waste to the Far East under the banner of sustainability or whether ‘recycling’ is being used as a flag of convenience and large quantities are burned or landfilled.

It has also been a year where the ongoing problems of ‘ghost ships’ and their eventual recycling at the notoriously dangerous breaking yards of Indo-China has captured the headlines.

Impending changes in regulations banning the building of more single-hulled tankers look set to create a surge of ageing hulks heading east for scrapping, and promises from the IMO of a Green Passport – a document detailing what a ship is made of and how best to dismantle it and dispose of its parts – have received a lukewarm response from environmentalists.

2005 has also been a year peppered with human tragedy at England’s recycling plants, with several deaths due to industrial accidents showing it is not just the developing world that needs to tighten up its health and safety procedures in the waste management sector (see related story).

By Sam Bond

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