UK risks action over landfill breaches

The Government has admitted that it could face infraction proceedings from the European Commission following the Environment Agency's announcement that two hazardous waste streams can continue to be landfilled without meeting the waste acceptance criteria for landfill sites that came into force on 16 July. Industry has flagged up a further 50 waste streams that companies say face problems meeting the WAC.

Under EU legislation that took effect on 16 July, hazardous waste can no longer be landfilled unless it meets leaching limits and other parameters known as the waste acceptance criteria (WAC). Most wastes must also be treated before landfilling.

Although the basic parameters of the WAC were set out in an EU Decision in 2002, it was only in April - three months before the rules came into force - that the Agency established a working group to discuss "problematic wastes" (ENDS Report 364, pp 37-38 ).

On 5 July, the Agency announced that two waste streams - spent pot linings from primary aluminium smelters and furnace slag from lead-acid battery recycling - would not have to meet the WAC because no available pre-treatment would allow them to meet the limits and there is no alternative to landfill.

Both waste streams were among a number raised as a concern by the Non-Ferrous Alliance last year (ENDS Report 356, pp 14-15 ). According to the Alliance's Annelli Gilbert, solutions have been found for the other wastes, which included dross mill dusts and air pollution control residues from primary aluminium smelters.

The Agency's announcement included a lengthy list of requirements for producers of wastes unable to meet the WAC and for landfill operators. Some of the items merely repeat provisions that are already legal requirements. However, they also require the waste producer to:

  • Explore all the options - including process redesign - for minimising the quantities and hazardousness of the waste.

  • Investigate all alternative recovery and disposal options, including overseas in the case of recovery, to determine that there are no such alternative routes.

  • Formulate a plan and timetable for the development and provision of alternative waste management options in the shortest possible timescale.

  • Provide a report on all of the above to the Agency before landfilling takes place.

    Landfill sites accepting such wastes must keep records of the quantities accepted and the location of its deposit and submit them to the Agency monthly.

    Information on the waste streams and landfill sites in question will be placed on the Agency's website and the situation will be formally reviewed every six months.

    The UK has three primary aluminium smelters - Alcan's facilities at Lynemouth in Northumberland and Lochaber in western Scotland, and Anglesey Aluminium.

    Currently, Alcan's spent pot linings go to its in-house landfill at Lynemouth, but this had to stop on 16 July because the landfill has no PPC permit. Alcan's appeal against the permit refusal has not yet been heard. Anglesey Aluminium's spent pot linings go to J Routledge's Whitemoss landfill near Skelmersdale.

    One of the aluminium producers has already submitted its report to the Agency, said Ms Gilbert, while the other was thought to be imminent.

    Spent pot linings from aluminium smelters in some other Member States are exported to the Norwegian island of Langöya where they are used to backfill a disused quarry - a process the countries in question classify as "recovery".

    It is not known where the UK's only lead-acid battery recycling plant, HJ Enthoven's works near Matlock, plans to send its furnace slag.

    According to a paper issued by DEFRA on the outcome of its recent consultation on landfill regulations, "Enthoven considered that the only course of action to meet the legislation in full and without the need for the risk assessment approach, would necessitate an investment in new furnace technology which is currently estimated to be in excess of £10 million."

    Other problematic wastes being discussed by the Agency include contaminated packaging, air pollution control residues, filter cakes, residues from ferrous slag, contaminated soils and oily wastes/rags. More than 50 separate waste streams have been flagged up as potentially unable to comply.

    The waste industry is concerned that new waste treatment markets will struggle to emerge if too many waste streams secure exemptions.

    Speaking at ENDS' hazardous waste conference in July (see pp 20-24 ), Dirk Hazell of the Environmental Services Association warned that investors would be concerned that the announcement "could be the thin edge of the wedge".

    The Agency's Roy Watkinson told the conference that only "a handful" of problematic wastes will "have to be dealt with in this way. Whether there has to be changes to legislation or treatment practice is something the Agency will have to make proposals on to DEFRA."

    DEFRA told ENDS that it "will be informing the Commission of the steps being taken in respect of waste which cannot, at present, meet the WAC". It acknowledges that "there is a potential for infraction."

    DEFRA is "satisfied that the Agency's approach represents the safest interim regulatory approach until a permanent solution can be found."

    There should not be any waste streams from the chemicals industry causing major problems. Julie Hesketh of the Chemical Industries Association said: "We haven't identified any major wastes from the chemical industry that won't meet the WAC, although there might be small quantities of generic wastes."

    Chemical firms are concerned that the market for disposing of hazardous waste through high temperature incineration could tighten if some wastes that cannot meet the WAC are diverted to incineration from landfill.

    The Agency is to write to producers to ask those that wish to utilise the derogation allowing levels three times higher than the standard WAC limits to inform it of their intentions. Speaking at ENDS' conference, Biffa's Jason Stringer said that 38,000 tonnes of contaminated packaging is likely to be put forward for the derogation.

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