Agency struggling to cope with organic hazwaste

More than 70,000 tonnes of hazardous organic waste will have been stockpiled by July because producers are refusing to send it for costly incineration. In a u-turn, the Environment Agency will consider letting it go to landfill while treatment capacity becomes available.

Since the EU waste acceptance criteria came into force in July 2005, hazardous waste landfills have not been allowed to accept waste containing more than 6% total organic carbon.

The Agency gave a derogation from this until July 2006 to give waste producers time to find alternative disposal routes.

But in the six months since the derogation ended companies have been stockpiling their waste instead of sending it to Veolia’s high-temperature incinerators at Fawley in Hampshire and Ellesmere Port in Cheshire.

Veolia is in the process of selling the Fawley incinerator - a requirement imposed by regulators following its acquisition of Cleanaway (ENDS Report 378, p 12 ).

According to a presentation to the Hazardous Waste Forum last October by Veolia’s regulatory affairs director Gill Weeks, a range of wastes are assumed to be currently stockpiled:

  • 30,000 tonnes per year of oily sludges.
  • 45,000 tonnes per year of contaminated packaging and personal protective equipment.
  • 80,000m3 per year of contaminated timber.
These figures are an underestimate as they are based on Veolia’s sales enquiries. They do not take account of waste being illegally disposed of in non-hazardous landfills (ENDS Report 377, p 20 ), which do not have limits on total organic carbon.

Companies are stockpiling waste to avoid disposal costs which are two-to-three times higher than landfill, Ms Weeks told ENDS. "But the reality is if all companies did send their waste to us, we wouldn’t have capacity to dispose of it."

At the Forum, Ms Weeks put forward a set of "interim proposals" for dealing with the stockpile. These should be time-limited to give industry confidence to invest in new treatment facilities.

Oily sludges, which can only go to high-temperature incineration or be treated using solidification, could be sent overseas for "recovery", she said.

The Environment Department (DEFRA) is consulting on changes to the transfrontier shipment of waste regulations that would also remove a ban on shipments of "problematic" hazardous wastes for disposal (see pp 34-35 ).

Improved segregation could reduce arisings of contaminated packaging and personal protective equipment, she added. The government could provide the political support for it to go to municipal waste incinerators.

Only Coventry incinerator is currently licensed to burn contaminated packaging. The "majority" of other incinerators could burn it "in principle", she said, but they would need modifications to planning consents and pollution control permits, and could face public opposition.

Municipal waste incinerators could also provide an interim solution for contaminated timber.

Following her presentation, the Hazardous Waste Forum agreed that a special meeting of its problematic waste streams sub-group was needed to "get to grips" with the issues surrounding incineration. This has yet to occur.

But the Agency has written to Veolia to clarify its available capacity for treatment of hazardous organic waste.

The Agency is also "discussing" whether organic hazardous wastes could go to municipal waste incinerators, according to Nick Bethel, its hazardous waste policy advisor.

Mr Bethel admitted producers and the Agency were deadlocked over how to dispose of such wastes.

"We issued a clear statement in September saying we would not issue derogations [for such waste to go to landfill]," he said. "But clearly producers don’t believe it."

He said the Agency would not change its position and companies would have to bear the cost of alternative disposal routes.

But in an apparent u-turn he added that a note would be issued "early this year… saying we will consider derogations where appropriate treatment capacity is coming forward, the aim being to give certainty to investors." He did not say whether such derogations would be time-limited.

His comments will be welcomed by hazardous waste landfill operators who say they have seen 100,000 tonnes less waste each year since the landfill Directive came into force. Last year, J Routledge & Sons had to reapply for planning permission for its Whitemoss landfill due to a shortfall in arisings. The site was supposed to close in 2007, but is now expected to do so in 2013.

But the Agency’s changed position has not been welcomed by the treatment industry. "The Agency needs to hold firm so we can put in more capacity or new treatment facilities," said Ms Weeks. "If you get the waste out of landfill you will at least educate producers to pay the correct price for treatment. If the Agency gives further derogations, the fear is it will never be removed."

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