Survey underlines industry efforts to reduce hazardous waste

A quarter of industrial companies responding to ENDS' hazardous waste survey said they had been able to reduce production of hazardous waste over the past year. Only 13% reported waste increases. However, all but one respondent said that costs would increase over the year ahead - on average by 34%.

The findings support the view that a significant component of the reduction in hazardous wastes arriving at landfill sites since the ban on co-disposal has been industry action to minimise cost increases by reducing hazardous waste production.

The survey, conducted in June, asked producers of industrial hazardous waste how their arisings had changed between the first quarter of 2004 - prior to the co-disposal ban - and the first quarter of 2005.

Just over 60% said there had been no change in their production of hazardous waste, but a significant minority - 26% - said they had been able to achieve reductions.

The survey went on to ask companies to address projected trends for the year ahead - and a starkly different picture emerged.

Only 17% of companies expect to be able to secure reductions in hazardous waste in the year ahead, while 43% expect there to be increases - driven by the new, broader definition of "hazardous" waste taking effect on 16 July.

Asked to rank the factors contributing to trends in their companies' consignments of hazardous waste, industrial firms were evenly split between the following three factors, each of which secured high rankings:

  • Improved segregation of waste types.

  • Improved process efficiency/waste minimisation.

  • The new definition of hazardous waste.

    A fourth factor canvassed - in-house waste treatment and recycling - was identified as an important factor by fewer than a quarter of firms.

    All but one of the waste producers responding to our question on costs said they expect their costs to increase. The average anticipated cost increase over the year ahead was 34%.

    In stark contrast to the Environment Agency's recent survey of SMEs, almost every company responding to ENDS' survey said they were ready and able to comply with the new hazardous waste regime on 16 July. Very few SMEs responded to ENDS' survey, responses being dominated by companies with dedicated environmental personnel.

    ENDS' survey was based on questionnaire responses from 96 companies and a broad range of follow-up interviews. Questionnaire response rates from the waste management and land remediation sectors were insufficient for their responses to be included in the analysis.

    Waste producers participating in the survey included companies in the metals, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil, engineering, food, minerals, automotive and consumer products sectors.

    Interesting comparisons can be made between two groups of survey respondents: environmental consultants and industrial waste producers.

    Almost all producers of industrial hazardous waste told us that they had been able to find adequate landfill and treatment capacity for their wastes over the past year. But some 42% of environmental consultants said they had not found adequate capacity. Consultants tend to hear about the more problematic waste streams.

    For the year ahead, however, 27% of waste producers are anticipating problems finding capacity for their wastes, and 58% of consultants are also expecting problems.

    Meanwhile, asked to identify the top factor shaping hazardous waste production over the past year, the two groups responded as follows (see also the figure):

  • Misconsignment: No less than 73% of environmental consultants felt that misconsignment of hazardous waste as "non-hazardous" was the top factor explaining recent market trends. Far fewer industrial waste producers - 31% - see misconsignment as the top factor.

  • Segregation: Only 20% of consultants rank improved segregation of waste types as the top factor explaining trends in arisings. Among waste producers, meanwhile, the option was selected by 27% of respondents.

  • In-house reduction: Finally, only 7% of consultants identified in-house industrial waste reduction and treatment as the top factor - compared with no less than 42% of respondents from industry.

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