Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002

– in the House of Lords at 9:36 pm on 10th June 2002.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, it may be helpful in my opening remarks if I outline what the Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations do, what their effect will be and how they fit within the framework set out in the Government's national waste strategy.

I note the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and the opportunity that it offers to discuss the proposal for a directive on waste electronic and electrical equipment. However, I am moving these regulations at this point. I shall focus my opening comments on this subject and come back to his remarks on the WEEE directive, as we must call it, at a later stage, save to say that the delay his amendment seeks would cause us problems. The amendment explicitly calls for a delay which would in practice put us at odds with the EU, with possible infraction proceedings. We are already behind in transposing this directive. We should have done so by July 2001, but in substantive terms that is not at present a problem as the requirements of the directive come into force only in July of this year. However, we need to ensure that we have transposed the directive by then.

The regulations implement the technical and regulatory requirements of the EC landfill directive in England and Wales. Many of the landfill directive's requirements are already reflected in controls on landfill sites which are currently regulated under the waste management licensing regime. However, these regulations will introduce some key changes to current UK landfill practice. These include the classification of landfills as sites for either hazardous, non-hazardous or inert waste; an end to the current UK practice of co-disposing of hazardous and non-hazardous waste with effect from July 2004; the introduction of waste acceptance criteria setting out the types of waste that can be accepted at each of these three types of landfill; the requirement to treat most wastes before landfill; and bans on landfilling certain wastes, including liquid wastes, certain hazardous wastes and used tyres.

The regulations require operators to submit site conditioning plans to the Environment Agency setting out how the landfill site will meet all the requirements of the regulations.

The regulations will also, over a transitional period to 2007, bring all landfill sites under the pollution prevention and control regime, the PPC regime. This will provide for a single, consistent and coherent regulatory regime for all landfill sites regardless of size and classification. It will thus avoid the difficulties of running two separate regimes for landfill—waste management licensing and pollution prevention and control—in parallel. This has been welcomed by the waste management industry.

The regulations we are considering today do not cover the targets in the directive for the diversion of biodegradeable municipal waste from landfill. We have consulted on a system of tradable landfill permits to enforce these targets and we shall be bring forward separate legislation covering those requirements in due course.

We have consulted widely on our implementation plans. A consultation paper on our proposal for implementation was issued in October 2000. This was followed by a second paper in August 2001 including a draft copy of these regulations. The Environment Agency has also consulted on the wide range of guidance it has produced to assist operators in preparing for the requirements of the directive.

The landfill directive was a key, perhaps the key, driver behind the UK waste strategy. If we implement the directive successfully we shall go a long way to meet the aims and objectives of the strategy.

The regulations will in particular help us to meet the target in the strategy to reduce the amount of industrial and commercial waste landfill to 85 per cent of 1998 levels. We must focus on recovering value from such wastes and reduce the environmental impacts of disposal. These regulations will assist that process by banning certain wastes from landfill altogether and by requiring wastes to be treated before landfilling.

Government policy is to minimise waste and to recycle and compost as much as possible of what is produced. There will always be a place for properly managed and regulated landfill, and these regulations will ensure that that is the case. But increasingly this must be as part of a much more balanced and sustainable range of measures for getting the greatest use of our resources in the first place. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 26th March be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Whitty.)

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative 9:42 pm, 10th June 2002

rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, at end to insert "but this House calls on Her Majesty's Government not to bring these regulations into force until the implications of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (COM (2000)347) on central and local government have been explored fully".

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, it was not my intention to have this debate in the middle of the night. I had hoped that we might have had a more liberal but short and punchy dinner hour debate on the directive and waste management. I have to declare a rather ancient interest. I have no remuneration now but I was part of Redland plc which at one time owned and controlled such waste. I was personally responsible for running waste disposal operations in Northern Ireland.

The directive is yet another from Europe for which I believe that the Government are not prepared. The directive will make a very significant change to waste disposal operations in this country. As the Minister said, it will enforce within two years the separation of all waste which is disposed of in landfill sites into hazardous and non-hazardous. It will require and gives commercial opportunities for pre-treatment of hazardous waste.

The waste disposal industry is a significant industry in this country. It is linked with and, with dotted lines, controlled by the British Government and the directives which come from Europe. Without a clear strategy from government both in reaction to directives such as this from Europe and in our own self-interest, the tremendous skills and technology available within the waste disposal industry are not being fully utilised, commercial interests are being held back and at some stage opportunities are lost.

I shall not continue for too long because it is late. However, there are a few issues that are worth mentioning. We believe that continued improvements in regulatory standards are essential: they are essential drivers to the delivery of greater environmental sustainability. We welcome the landfill directives and the landfill directive regulations that are needed to fulfil our commitments to Europe.

There is a need for consistent and co-ordinated regulation across the United Kingdom. We have a problem—or perhaps I should say the Government have a problem: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are under separate legislatures. Stormont and Edinburgh will take their own routes and their own time, which, unless government action is taken, can—and will—cause an embarrassment in the disposal of some of the more difficult waste that needs to be removed. In my opinion, it is important that the kingdom should come together; and that the Government, along with the other legislatures, should find a means of meeting the requirements of the European directives.

I have already mentioned the need to treat waste before it is disposed of, and this is certainly a significant opportunity for improvement. However, it is also a significant problem that will need to be controlled. When one has waste that is legally difficult to dispose of—I have been in that situation commercially as regards printing inks and cyanides, leaking barrels of various nasty substances—the temptation is huge for the smaller businessman to make a quick buck and tip it illegally into a small empty quarry or some similar place. The need for tighter controls than we have today on this sort of issue is vital.

There is also the problem of incineration. This should not be a problem. Again, the incineration industry has huge opportunities for business, for profit and for commercial exploitation of the best and right way to go forward, but the industry also needs a lead from a government-coherent strategy. The bottom line is that it is seriously important for us to meet these directives for the future, especially in a country the size of ours that produces such massive volumes of waste.

It is inevitable, and I suspect expected, that there will be a significant cost burden to be borne. As I understand the situation, it has not yet been decided where that cost burden will lie. However, it will surely lie somewhere between local authorities, the private individual and government subsidies. It is most important for the Government quickly to provide and produce a strategy, along with accompanying plans, which will cover those problems. I do not want to repeat this, but we do not need another fridge mountain issue as a result of the WEEE directive. This time I believe that we are just about on the ball. We have perhaps lost 15 months, but there is time for the Government to catch up before the directive becomes law. Let us ensure that the proper strategies are in place; that the technologies are available; and that everyone understands what he has to do to meet this requirement and is aware of the directive.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister a few questions. I wonder how many sites will, in the Government's reckoning, need to have their licences changed. I wonder whether we have enough sites to dispose of our hazardous waste. They are few and far between—or they were in my day—particularly when we look at compliance as regards liquids. Where is the Government's strategy? When will Her Majesty's Government catch up with the Euro-game? What are Her Majesty's Government doing to assess the future cost to the country and how the funding will be found to get ahead of the game in terms of waste management? I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "but this House calls on Her Majesty's Government not to bring these regulations into force until the implications of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (COM(2000)347) on central and local government have been explored fully".—(Lord Glentoran.)

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall speak to the original Motion and to the amendment. I declare an interest as a Somerset county councillor with responsibility for the disposal of waste, although not for its collection—that is still a district responsibility. I was interested to hear of the long experience of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in waste disposal issues.

Overall, we welcome this move. Europe is the only driver for a great deal of what is happening in the area of waste. Successive governments and local authorities have been slow and reactive. We need this prod from Europe to get on with things.

It was interesting, looking through the information that is available on the various websites, to see what other European countries are doing, when they started to implement their strategies and in what ways they have reacted to the WEEE directive. I was slightly surprised by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in that respect. There seems to have been a very long time for the directive to have been enacted. While I have the same concern as the noble Lord over the fridge debacle, the fact is that there never will be a good time, and we had better get on with it.

On the plus side, the WEEE directive may well be in the best interests of consumers. If one goes into any electrical store now, one sees that the move is towards bigger and bigger goods to be sold more and more frequently and, it seems, with a shorter and shorter obsolescence period—although I may be feeling slightly sensitive about this matter, having just had to return two electric kettles in a month because neither worked. It is a serious point: when huge American-style fridges are being introduced, someone needs to think about the end disposal of them. The cost of that disposal needs to be brought in front of all of us, and this is one way to do it.

The division of the waste stream at this stage is extremely valuable. That is the other prompt that the directive will give us. One has only to look at the example of batteries to see how this country has dragged its feet. So far as I am aware, there has been no incentive for people to buy rechargeable batteries and there has been no recycling scheme for old batteries—yet for years and years they have been known to be hazardous.

I echo the question of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about sites which cannot comply and which must be closed. Have the Government made an estimate of the number of such sites? It is certain that, if new sites are needed, they will be harder to find than hen's teeth. There is nothing like a landfill site application to create the greatest number of objections from residents across a large geographical area.

At the same time, the Government should consider, in minimising the waste the goes to landfill, that their policy of not tackling waste that goes to incinerators no longer bears scrutiny. The maxim should be: reduce, reduce, reduce. Every possible incentive is needed to make people do that.

The Minister mentioned the recycling of things that can be composted. I thoroughly agree that we should encourage that, but it seems that ever more reasons are appearing why things cannot be turned into compost. It would be very interesting to look at that. For example, disposable plates made from potato waste as opposed to plastic are now available, but they cannot be recycled into compost because they may have been in contact with animal products. On a recent visit to an abattoir, I was amazed by the mounds of things, including chicken feathers, that are apparently equally unsuitable. Surely all organic material, if treated properly in one way or another, should be compostable.

Finally, as an example of the sort of targeting that the Government are undertaking, what targets in the WEEE directive is the Minister setting for residents in the UK? I gather that Denmark has a target of 20 kilos per inhabitant per year, whereas Portugal's target is as low as 2 kilos per year. That may seem a detailed question, but it is very important that we know the sorts of figures that the Government believe may need to be applied so that local authorities and others are aware of the scale of the issue with which they will be dealing.

Overall, we welcome this as a move forward. We hope that the Government will make further moves on what seems on paper to be a good waste strategy, very little of which seems to have been implemented since 2000.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I thank the two Front Bench spokespeople for their comments and their broad welcome. To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, we already have a well established waste strategy in this country. The waste strategy 2000 is the pattern to which we are working. We are substantially ahead of the game at this point, which we clearly were not on fridges. No read-over from the saga on fridges is appropriate to the landfill directive or to the WEEE directive. In both we have been aware of the problems. The technology is there and we have consulted and involved the producer and waste management sides of the industry.

I fully agree with the noble Lord that we must have an overall strategy. I also agree that we shall have to have tighter controls on the way in which we landfill and against illegal dumping and other issues. I also agree that we very much need to engage the industry. That is what we have been doing.

The WEEE directive is currently a proposal from the Commission and the Council which has still to be discussed by the European Parliament, so its final form is not yet clear. However, we have strongly supported the broad direction of the WEEE directive through its production. In particular, we support the concept of producer responsibility, which avoids some of the problems that have arisen with fridges.

At the moment the waste stream in this area is growing, so we need to divert waste from electronic and electrical goods away from landfill and develop cost-effective ways of increasing the collection and recovery of such waste and of treating, disposing of and recycling it. We have been in close contact with the industry about the implementation of the WEEE directive in the UK. We have also very much involved local authorities. We are having a number of planned meetings to discuss with local authorities the role that they will play in the WEEE directive. They have also been very much involved in the discussions on the landfill regulations. We have also discussed the WEEE directive with the Small Business Service to organise visits in its 20 UK areas to raise awareness of the requirement of the directive and discuss implementation methods. So I think that we have planned reasonably well on this occasion both for these regulations and for the WEEE directive itself.

At the beginning of his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, rightly referred to the issue of commercial opportunities. Clearly there is substantial opportunity here, and we are engaging with the waste management industry and with producers to try to develop the pre-treatment, disposal and recycling requirements. We are therefore ahead of the technology, whereas no such technology was available to deal with the problem of implementing the refrigerator requirements.

All sites will have to be re-permitted in one form or another under these arrangements. Although we do not expect there to be many hazardous waste sites, there will have to be a minimum number. Moreover, as co-disposal must end after 2004, there will be a limited number of such sites. We will not know the exact figures until we have all the conditioning plans from the site operators. It is therefore not really possible to answer the question asked by both the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about the number of sites. The matter is subject partly to commercial decisions. We do not, however, expect to encounter the type of problem mentioned by the noble Baroness—the need to identify large numbers of additional sites in order to meet the requirements of the regulations. In the medium-term, the aim is to reduce the proportion of total waste going to landfill. I therefore believe that the problem will not be acute as the noble Baroness suggests.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Before he leaves the point, can he say how the minimum number will be determined? Will it be by geographical area, head of population or the amount of waste assessed as requiring disposal? If he cannot answer now, will he perhaps write to me?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I do not think that it will work that way round. The site operators themselves will identify the type of waste they wish to handle, whether they wish to be identified as hazardous waste sites and the nature of their permit. We shall have to identify gaps in the arrangements, which we shall discuss with the industry, and then identify existing sites or potential new sites. All I am saying is that I cannot reasonably be expected to give the numbers now. I expect that the number of new sites will be relatively small and that we shall not face the type of planning problems to which the noble Baroness referred.

One consequence, however, is that a number of sites will have to upgrade their operations. Although there will be a commercial return, they will clearly have to engage in upgrading the sites. We shall also have to upgrade and extend the amount of free treatment for both general waste and the waste eventually covered by the WEEE directive itself.

As to whether we should tax incineration in the same way as we tax landfill operations, the Chancellor announced in the Budget his intention to examine incineration tax within the context of the overall review of landfill tax. So it is a "watch this space" response on that point.

I think that that deals with the main points other than devolution. There is clearly a need for us to remain in very close contact with the Scottish and Northern Ireland authorities on the matter, as we are doing. We expect that, under existing powers, they will meet as far as possible the requirements of the directive, as we have been doing since July 2001 in terms of new sites. We expect implementation in Northern Ireland to be in 2003 because it will require new enabling legislation.

As regards Scotland, the Scottish Executive will shortly issue draft consultation documents. Broadly speaking, it will follow approximately the same approach as ourselves. We are in close touch and I do not think that there will be serious inconsistencies as regards our approach and that of the devolved administrations. Naturally, as a consequence of devolution, there will be minor differences, but I think that we are all committed to the same broad strategy.

As regards the noble Baroness's question on the WEEE directive and the amount of household waste that we shall target, we do not at this point have a target in the sense that she mentioned. Of course, we do not know how the WEEE directive will finally designate the relevant target. At the moment there is mention of four kilograms per head per year. That figure is already exceeded in the UK. Therefore, we would not expect to encounter problems as regards meeting the WEEE directive. It would be a matter for the UK Government whether, as part of the development of the waste strategy, we set a separate target. We are not at present setting such a target. However, we are confident that we shall be able to meet the requirement in the directive.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that extensive and detailed response. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, for taking part in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment to the Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at seven minutes past ten o'clock.