The former Department of the Environment set an October 1995 deadline for all metal recycling sites to apply for a waste management licence or register for an exemption (ENDS Report 248, pp 32-33 ). Exemptions apply only to smaller sites, and to qualify operators must install an impermeable pavement with a sealed drainage system.
Three years on, 1,638 sites have licences and 1,464 are registered, according to new Agency figures for England and Wales. The number of licensed sites has hardly increased since it started work in April 1996, but the number of registered sites has increased by around 400.
The Agency says that it is aware of 1,042 metal recycling sites which are operating illegally - without a licence or registration. The metal recycling industry believes that there are more like 1,500 sites operating illegally (ENDS Report 283, pp 15-16 ). "We know that there are more sites out there," confirmed Mark Stringer, an Agency licensing officer seconded to the project.
In the run-up to its third birthday, the Agency has decided that it is time now to clamp down on the illegal operators. Its resolve has been strengthened by the outcome of the recent High Court judgement on which categories of scrap fall under waste management legislation (see pp 46-47 ).
A big problem holding back any clamp-down has been the Agency's slow pace in developing nationally consistent waste regulation policies. Another handicap has been a shortage of manpower deployed on waste regulation duties.
Between March and October, more than 70 Agency staff are to be deployed full-time at local area level, tracking down the illegal sites and persuading them to apply for licences or register. The project is timed to follow the Agency's national waste survey, which is currently placing considerable pressure on manpower.
Before March, the Agency intends to draw up some "shell" working plans in co-operation with the scrap industry to bring national consistency. Licensing officers will also make use of the new library of licence conditions, which has a separate volume devoted to metal recycling (ENDS Report 275, pp 35-36 ).
"We intend to bring all sites under regulation by October 1999," said Mr Stringer. "It is a considerable task."
He acknowledged, however, that there is little chance of issuing all the necessary licences within this period. The Agency's target is for operators to apply for licences by October.
Mr Stringer added that the Agency will take a "proportionate view" and allow companies time to phase in any works, such as resurfacing and measures to control dust and noise. "The industry is going through a fairly tough economic time," he noted.
Unlike the waste survey, the clamp-down on scrap offers the reward of a new revenue stream for the Agency. Each application for registration costs £480, and registered sites must pay £180 per year thereafter. Licence application fees range from £600 to £1,400, and the annual fees start at £650. If the project is successful, it will bring at least £500,000 into the Agency's coffers over the next financial year.