Waste sector tops poor performers’ leagues

The waste sector has again topped poor performance leagues compiled by UK environmental regulators. While the Environment Agency has recorded improving industrial compliance in England and Wales, in Scotland the trend is deteriorating - with well-known firms upbraided for frequent infringements.

The Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) have both released 2007 operator performance results for the industrial and waste sites they regulate.

The average performance of English and Welsh sites regulated under the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) Regulations and waste management licensing regulations improved in 2007, according to Environment Agency data. A record low number were rated as ‘poorly managed’ (D or E) under the Agency’s operator performance and risk appraisal (EP OPRA) scheme, accounting for 37% of the total. An A rating was given to 31% of sites, a narrow record.

EP OPRA assesses the environmental risks of a site, covering the processes undertaken (PHA), how well they are managed (OPA) and compliance with licence conditions. Operators with poorer performance face higher charges. SEPA’s scheme is similar but reports hazards PHA and OPA separately. It also applies to major hazard (COMAH) sites, water activities and radioactive substances.

As more than two thirds of sites are rated A, D or E, the Environment Agency intends to introduce band F, for sites that seriously and persistently breach permit conditions. An A* band may also be introduced for the best run sites.

A brief summary of the EP OPRA results for 2007 was presented in the annual Spotlight report in July (see p 18 ).1 The full results have been passed to ENDS.

There are a few well-known names among the 40 PPC sites given an E-rating: Yorkshire Water, waste firm Augean Treatment, workplace services group PHS, Dairy Crest and brewer Inbev UK. Only two firms had more than one E-rated PPC site. These were dairy firm Meadow Foods and Cott, which produces soft drinks for firms such as Asda, Iceland and Tesco. Both had two E-rated sites.

The energy sector has improved on previous results (ENDS Report 392, pp 15-16 ). 72% of sites were rated A in 2007, compared to 56% in 2006, making it the joint-best performer with the minerals industry. Only 2% of energy and minerals sites were rated D-E. Metals came third, with 61% of sites rated A.

Despite minerals’ good performance, serious pollution incidents from the sector has risen for the second year running. 33 serious permit breaches were also recorded, despite the sector having only 85 PPC permits - by far the worst ratio of any sector.

The waste sector still has the worst results with the lowest proportion of A-rated sites (27%) and highest of D-E rated sites (43%).

At the very bottom are bodies such as Leeds City Council. All 20 of its waste management sites were rated D or E, while Anti-Waste achieved a uniform A-rating for its 17 sites.

In Scotland, SEPA recorded a rise in the proportion of sites that failed its operator performance assessment (OPA), from 6% in 2006 to 8% in 2007. 25 have been blacklisted (see table).

Only one of 313 sites, Diageo’s Cameronbridge distillery in Fife, achieved the maximum OPA score of 30. The company is currently seeking planning permission for a £65 million biomass and biogas power facility to power the site, to be fuelled by distillery waste.

Again, the waste sector was the worst performing, with 15% of sites not up to standard. The energy sector showed the best performance, with only 4% of sites having unsatisfactory results.

Seven sites did not meet required standards for the second year running, including Scottish Power’s Longannet power station. This again received an enforcement notice for burning sewage sludge in breach of the waste incineration Directive (ENDS Report 373, pp 10-11 ). SEPA says the site is now in compliance.

Other well-known firms with poor results were Ineos and Lafarge. Despite near-average OPA scores, their results were deemed unsatisfactory due to regulatory infractions and the high-risk nature of the processes undertaken.

Ineos’s Grangemouth refinery had an enforcement notice after it created an oil slick last summer (ENDS Report 390, p 23 ); prosecution may follow. A COMAH improvement notice was also served.

The Lafarge cement works in Dunbar exceeded designated emission limits and was upbraided for its "poor reporting history". All the company’s sites in England and Wales were A-rated.

Operator performance schemes are set for a shake up in the near future. SEPA announced a consultation on a new scheme in July (ENDS Report 402, pp 48-49 ). It proposes to replace OPA with a scheme focused on assessing compliance with licence conditions.

The Environment Agency’s acting chief executive Paul Leinster also told ENDS "changes are afoot" to EP OPRA. The Agency is looking at giving greater weighting to OPA rather PHA.

  • The Northern Ireland Environment Agency, formerly the Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service, does not currently operate a performance assessment scheme. The Agency has told ENDS that it is currently reviewing its options, with a corporate target to develop a risk assessment model this financial year.
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