Agency consults on "conditioning plans" under landfill Directive

The landfill industry caught its first glimpse of how the Environment Agency expects operators to prepare "conditioning plans" under the 1999 EU landfill Directive in late September. Reams of further guidance relating to the Directive are anticipated over the next few weeks.

The Agency's new consultation paper1 consists of a draft form with guidance on how to fill it in. The document reflects requirements under the draft landfill regulations issued for consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in August (ENDS Report 319, pp 26-29 ).

Operators must submit their conditioning plans by July 2002. The plans will explain whether they intend to continue operating their sites and, if so, how they propose to upgrade to landfill Directive standards. The Agency will use the plans to judge whether a site is capable of meeting Directive standards. For landfills remaining in operation, the plans will form part of the subsequent application for permits under the pollution prevention and control (PPC) regime.

Before preparing their plans, however, operators will need sight of technical guidance from the Agency, now delayed until late October or early November. The key guidance will deal with waste acceptance criteria, landfill standards under PPC, and waste treatment requirements.

The Agency is also preparing information packs specific to each landfill to explain a separate review process now under way which is intended to protect sites designated under the EU habitats Directive. Operators will have to explain the steps they will take to minimise impacts on designated sites, even if they intend to close the landfill.

The centrepiece of a conditioning plan will be a scale plan of the site showing the area covered and identifying all existing cells. Operators will have to declare whether they wish the site to be designated for hazardous, non-hazardous or inert waste. Co-disposal operators wishing to switch from the "hazardous" to "non-hazardous" designation from July 2004 - when the co-disposal ban kicks in - will have to say so in their conditioning plans.

The form leads operators through the issues required for compliance with landfill Directive standards. It seeks a "yes" or "no" answer to numerous compliance questions, and a date by when compliance is to be achieved. However, it will be impossible to answer many of the questions without sight of the outstanding technical guidance.

Many of the critical issues, which are likely to force the closure of scores of existing landfills, relate to the site engineering requirements under the Directive. However, much is left to interpretation.

On landfill gas management, for example, the form asks whether the site will "collect, treat and/or use the landfill gas in a manner which minimises damage to or deterioration of the environment and risk to human health?" A simple yes or no answer is required, whereas in reality operators will need to review the forthcoming technical guidance and enter potentially protracted discussions with the Agency.

The Agency will announce the proposed level of fees for processing conditioning plans when it consults on waste licensing charges in the autumn.

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