Treatment capacity shortage remains for hazardous wastes

England needs more incineration capacity for hazardous waste, according to an Environment Department (DEFRA) assessment. Other "priority needs" include solidification plant for filter cakes and air pollution control residues, and contaminated soil treatment facilities.

The last assessment of treatment capacity for hazardous waste was issued three years ago. DEFRA’s Hazardous Waste Forum reported there would be a million-tonne landfill shortage and a 600,000 tonne shortfall in stabilisation and solidification capacity after the co-disposal ban came into force in July 2004 (ENDS Report 357, p 20 ).

This proved wide of the mark with lower than expected tonnages arriving at hazardous waste landfills. But the Environment Agency has since admitted that hazardous waste is being sent to non-hazardous landfills illegally (ENDS Report 377, p 20 ).

DEFRA’s assessment will appear as an annex to the revised waste strategy in May and will "provide a framework to guide regional planning bodies and business in planning and procurement of new hazardous waste infrastructure." Regional planning bodies will be required to take it into account when drawing up spatial strategies.

The draft seen by ENDS is unlikely to change before the strategy is issued, says DEFRA, even though it was written before hazardous waste statistics for 2006 were available. These show an increase in arisings (see box ).

The new assessment does not quantify required treatment capacity, but lists the following priorities:

  • High-temperature incineration: It "remains to be seen" whether capacity at the Ellesmere Port and Fawley plants is sufficient to treat wastes unable to meet the waste acceptance criteria for hazardous wastes sent to landfill, such as oily filter cakes. But "indications are that additional capacity may be needed."
  • Municipal waste incineration: The assessment devotes much space to the possibility of treating "lower risk" hazardous wastes, such as contaminated packaging, contaminated timber and oily sludges, in municipal waste incinerators.

    More than 70,000 tonnes of such wastes will be stockpiled by July because producers are refusing to send them for costly high-temperature incineration (ENDS Report 384, p 17 ).

    Grundon and Viridor’s Colnbrook incinerator will be able to burn such waste when it is built in 2008 (ENDS Report 348, p 17 ), but "further capacity is likely to be needed". This would require the modification of planning permission and pollution prevention and control (PPC) permits. At a meeting of the Hazardous Waste Forum in February, the Agency said it could not see any policy barriers to this.

  • Solidification: There "continues to be insufficient stabilisation or solidification treatment in place". This is needed to treat filter cakes from waste treatment plants and ash residues from incineration plants.

    The assessment notes that the Agency is working on landfill acceptance criteria for monolithic wastes and, "once agreed", this will encourage the development of facilities. But it has proved far from easy to draw up such criteria (ENDS Report 366, pp 39-40 ).

  • Oil regeneration: The market for waste oil is currently dominated by Corus (ENDS Report 371, p 15 ). But "at least" one oil regeneration plant with a minimum capacity of 35,000 tonnes is needed "to broaden UK used-oil management options". A 70,000-tonne plant is considered to be more likely.

    DEFRA’s assessment is based on Puralube’s plans to build a waste oil regeneration plant. Last year the German firm acquired UK waste oil recycling firm Eco-oil, which recently had a major explosion at its Kingsnorth site in Kent.

    Puralube is delaying an investment decision until the outcome of a High Court case into the waste status of "clean fuel oil", a material made from waste oil by OSS Group (ENDS Report 384, pp 16 ). But another firm, Whelan Refining, plans to open a plant in Stoke-on-Trent in May. The refinery will recycle 50,000 tonnes of waste oils into base oils each year.

  • Contaminated soil: Landfill still dominates the treatment and disposal of contaminated soils. Facilities to treat wastes from specific sites and "mobile" plant are needed, including bio-remediation, soil washing and thermal desorption.
  • Batteries:
    Agreement of the batteries Directive has increased the need for further treatment capacity (ENDS Report 381, pp 30-33 ). Development of facilities for nickel-cadmium, lithium ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries are most pressing because they are exported for recovery.

    AEA Technology and G&P Batteries are currently building facilities for lithium ion batteries (ENDS Report 381, p 30-33 ).

  • DEFRA says more facilities are also needed to treat scrap electrical goods, vehicles and ships.

    Unsurprisingly, it says there is no need for more hazardous waste landfill capacity. There is permitted capacity available equivalent to 3.4 million tonnes per year. But it warns that the regional distribution of landfill sites does not match that for arisings, and says regional planning authorities should take this into account when assessing the facilities needed.

    The assessment is welcomed by the waste management industry. "It probably won’t have an affect on getting planning permission," said Gill Weeks, regulatory affairs director at Veolia, "but it should stop people asking the question, ‘Do we need it?’ It gives some of the certainty the industry’s been asking for."

    But some question whether the assessment is deliverable. This is especially true of the plan to burn hazardous waste in municipal waste incinerators.

    ENDS contacted the operators of the UK’s 18 incinerators. All said they would not consider burning the material because they were operating at full capacity or contractually prevented from taking commercial waste.

    Some said they would not do it in any case because of the public relations problems it could cause.

    DEFRA said this did not make the assessment invalid: "The municipal waste incineration plan is about future usage. It might be easier for new plants [to take the material]," it said.

    The development of solidification plants is also uncertain as the Agency’s monolithic waste group has yet to agree the acceptance criteria, state what testing will be needed or decide which processes will be allowed.

    Sita wants to mix cement with wastes and pump it into landfills before it has set, which is "standard practice on the continent," according to its technical director Gev Eduljee. If the Agency decided wastes must be pre-set before landfill, these plans would not go ahead.

    But some companies are pressing on. Augean is running a pilot plant mixing cement with both air pollution control residues and liquid wastes at its Cannock site. It hopes to submit a planning application by June for a 50,000-75,000-tonne facility and may do the same at its Port Clarence site. Veolia is also running a pilot solidification plant.

    Waste firms are also concerned about the Agency’s decision to allow derogations from the acceptance criteria for wastes with high organic content. An Agency note issued in March said landfills could apply for variations to their PPC permits to accept wastes with total organic carbon above 6% if certain conditions are met.1 These include an agreed plan with the waste producer and a treatment operator to ensure waste complies with the TOC limit by 1 July 2008.

    But the deadline "does not extend" to problematic wastes, and this may deter some firms from investing in treatment plant.

    Further uncertainty about hazardous waste treatment stems from an improvement condition of Castle Environmental’s PPC permit for its site in Ilkeston which requires its mixing pits to close. The company has appealed against the condition.

    The Agency has said mixing pits must cease operation by 30 June 2008 because they often amount to simple dilution of hazardous waste. They must be replaced by enclosed facilities (ENDS Report 377, pp 20 ).

    "I think a blanket ban is wrong," said Castle’s chief executive Roger Hewitt. "The Agency should be relying on the individual operators, their process and permit."

    Castle’s mixing pits are located inside a building and are fully abated, he added. The company believes they comply with guidance on best available techniques.