DEFRA bats away hazwaste criticism

Claims that hazardous waste is being illegally consigned to the wrong landfills have been dismissed by the Environment Department (DEFRA) - but, in its response to a report from the House of Commons Environment Committee on landfill policy, it failed to produce data to prove the claims are unfounded.

Claims that significant volumes of hazardous waste are being misclassified and sent to non-hazardous landfills were first made by the waste industry within weeks of the ban on co-disposal taking effect last summer.

More recently, an ENDS survey revealed that most environmental consultants and a third of industrial waste producers believe that misclassification is the single most important factor shaping hazardous waste market trends over the past year (see pp 20-24 ).

Such claims continue to be refuted by DEFRA and the Environment Agency, which argue that hazardous waste fell because of waste minimisation, separation of hazardous and non-hazardous waste streams, and a surge in contaminated soil consignments prior to the co-disposal ban.

In its report earlier this year, the Commons Environment Committee picked up figures from consultancy Beyond Waste which suggested that 700,000 tonnes of hazardous waste were unaccounted for, and challenged DEFRA to produce its own assessment of the data (ENDS Report 363, p 36 ).

In response, DEFRA calls Beyond Waste's figures "anecdotal and patchy", and based on "outdated, erroneous and incorrectly extrapolated data". There is "no evidence" that 700,000 tonnes of hazardous waste has gone missing.

Twelve months after the co-disposal ban came into force, neither the Department nor the Agency has produced robust data on hazardous waste arisings, treatment and disposal - an intelligence gap that is doing little to dispel the market's view that misconsignment is commonplace.

DEFRA also dismissed the Committee's call for "independent work" to establish why the Government and industry are at polar opposites on whether guidance on the "waste acceptance criteria" for landfilled wastes which came into force on 16 July had been sufficiently clear and timely.

In comments likely to draw a sharp intake of breath in industry, it says "much of the guidance...has been available for some time", and that operators "have been confirming that there will be no problems".

Elsewhere, the Government's response provides an update on initiatives to help local authorities increase recycling and meet their landfill allowances for biodegradable waste.

  • Municipal waste data: DEFRA admits that it "does not currently have sufficient data to predict how the landfill Directive targets will be met" as "no centralised data source exists". It agrees that work on municipal waste data "should be taken forward quickly" to help local authorities prepare strategies.

    But it has yet to decide whether this will form part of a wider analysis of the municipal waste market with the Office of Government Commerce and Office of Fair Trading (ENDS Report 365, p 48 ). It warns that if "it is not possible to progress [the analysis] quickly" it will commission a separate study.

    As part of the waste strategy review, DEFRA and the Agency are also developing a predictive model known as "Reward" to calculate expected waste volumes.

    The Government promises to conduct annual evaluations with the Agency and Local Government Association of the likely infrastructure developments of individual authorities, and says guidance to clarify the definition of "municipal waste" should be issued in time for first quarter reporting under the landfill allowance trading scheme.

  • Planning and permitting: While the Government supports so-called "parallel tracking" of permit and planning applications to improve efficiency, it is "aware" of the waste industry's concerns about the financial risk of making the procedure mandatory. The matter will be "borne in mind" by DEFRA's review of environmental permitting and work by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on the unification of consent regimes.

  • Variable charging: The Government remains opposed to variable or direct charging for household waste collection, and recently blocked moves to include such powers in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (ENDS Report 362, pp 38-39 ).

    Defending its stance, the Government referred to a report by AEA Technology which found that, while at least half of English authorities are dabbling with some form of incentive scheme, there has been little evaluation or evidence of their efficacy.

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