The environment department (DEFRA) must go back to the drawing board if it wants its hazardous waste strategy to raise industry standards, according to consultation responses.
DEFRA issued the strategy in August in a new attempt to improve treatment and lessen reliance on landfill (ENDS Report 415, p 40 ). It includes a series of principles defining how hazardous waste should be managed. For example, producers must ensure it is treated in line with the waste hierarchy: if a waste can be recycled or sent for energy recovery, it should not be landfilled.
But consultation responses suggest a more detailed strategy is needed if new treatment infrastructure is to be built.
"The current strategy is far short of what we believe is required and will require significant improvement if [DEFRA’s] aims are to be met," says Waste Recycling Group’s response. This view is echoed in the three other responses seen by ENDS.
Many of the complaints focus on the strategy’s enforceability. For example, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) says: "DEFRA has stated that the strategy is an advisory document and that the principles thus have little or no legal status." This is "unsatisfactory" and will prevent firms having the confidence to invest in treatment infrastructure. Currently, the Environment Agency could be challenged in the courts if it tried to force a firm to dispose of its waste in a particular way.
Castle Environmental’s response echoes this point. It draws attention to DEFRA’s comment that some wastes can depart from the waste hierarchy "where this is justified by life-cycle thinking". This may have benefits in some circumstances, Castle says, but "it also presents a potential loophole that could be legally challenged and is likely to generate uncertainty [and prevent investment]".
CIWM is also concerned the strategy only applies to England, which may lead to ‘waste tourism’. It needs to apply across the UK to prevent firms sending hazardous wastes to Scotland or Wales so they can be landfilled rather than undergoing costly treatment.
DEFRA also needs to state how it will stop firms exporting waste, according to CIWM. "If a new facility is built in the UK to enable a particular waste to move up the hierarchy… then it should not be possible to continue to use… a ‘lower’ facility simply by shipping the waste to another EU member state."
CIWM says there are precedents for this. France does not allow incinerator fly-ash to be sent to Germany for long-term storage.
WRG and hazardous waste firm Augean make similar comments in their responses. WRG says: "If self-sufficiency [in treatment capacity] is the goal then there needs to be a clear ban on export of waste." Many EU treatment facilities receive state subsidies so can offer lower prices than UK plants.
Augean also criticises DEFRA for not clearly explaining how producers can be made to show they have followed the waste hierarchy. DEFRA suggested this could be a condition of planning consents, but Augean says that "could not be applied retrospectively".
The responses also criticise the principles themselves. For example, WRG says they need to provide advice on specific waste streams. It draws particular attention to air pollution control residues from incineration and power plants. Currently these are classified as hazardous waste, but after treatment are often sent to non-hazardous landfill even though their hazardous properties have not been chemically altered.
WRG says these residues "may be highly polluting" and should only go to hazardous landfills, which have higher engineering standards. This is the line taken on the continent.