DEFRA climbdown on landfill controls

Regulations issued in June reveal that the Environment Department (DEFRA) has been forced to drop plans to introduce stricter provisions on the information waste producers must provide when consigning waste - instead promising to strengthen existing requirements through revision of the statutory code of practice on the "duty of care".1 The regulations also allow "compatible" hazardous wastes to be deposited in landfills adopting limit values three times higher than those in the standard waste acceptance criteria (WAC).

Draft regulations addressing a number of outstanding issues related to implementation of the landfill Directive were issued for consultation by DEFRA last year (ENDS Report 360, p 37 ).

A key issue was how much information waste producers should be required to supply when consigning waste. Another was how widely to apply the derogation allowing limit values for some leaching parameters to be up to three times higher than the WAC limit value at individual sites, provided a site-specific risk assessment could demonstrate there would be no additional risk to the environment.

In both cases, DEFRA has now opted to relax the proposed rules significantly. Taken together with the Environment Agency's decision to allow some hazardous wastes to be landfilled even though they fail to meet the three times higher limit values (see pp 38-39 ), the new regime for managing hazardous waste promises to be far more confused and complicated than either the waste industry or the Agency would have liked.

The new regulations' provisions come into force on 15 and 16 July - the same time as the coming into force of the full WAC for the landfilling of hazardous wastes and the new hazardous waste regulations.

  • Duty of care: Last year's draft landfill regulations included provisions requiring all waste producers to provide certain information about the characterisation of their waste in transfer notes or consignment notes, even when the consignor was not sure whether the waste would eventually be landfilled. The complete characterisation information, including information such as the treatment applied, the composition of the waste and the likely behaviour of the waste in a landfill, would have had to accompany the waste to a landfill site.

    However, in response to concerns expressed by many stakeholders, particularly small businesses, DEFRA has decided to rely upon the existing provisions of the 2002 landfill regulations to require the characterisation of the waste, rather than create a new offence. Requiring businesses to characterise all of their waste, regardless of whether it was destined for landfill, would be "disproportionate and over-implement" the Directive.

    The existing provisions will be supplemented by strengthening of the waste description requirements of the "duty of care" regime, with a consultation planned for "later in 2005". Adopting this approach will also enable proposals for waste description requirements emanating from other Directives, such as those on end-of-life vehicles and waste electrical and electronic equipment, to be included.

    However, the changes will do little to reassure waste treatment and landfill operators that the Agency can be sure that hazardous waste is not being illegally mixed with non-hazardous waste and by-passing their facilities.

  • Risk assessment option: The EU Council Decision setting out the measures for waste acceptance at landfills allowed limit values for some parameters to be increased by up to three times at individual sites, provided a site-specific risk assessment could demonstrate no additional risk to the environment.

    Major producers of hazardous waste, such as the chemical industry, have pressed for a site-specific approach to determining the WAC for each landfill site, arguing that landfills located on clay and remote from groundwater sources could continue to accept hazardous waste with little pre-treatment, since they posed little risk.

    However, the waste industry was concerned that such an approach would lead to an unlevel playing field, while the Agency argued that site-specific risk assessments would give it too great a workload (ENDS Report 331, pp 27-30 ).

    Last year, DEFRA worked up a compromise position, under which the risk assessment option would be limited to individual waste types destined for specific hazardous mono-landfills and mono-fill cells.

    In the event the regulations broaden the rules still further by allowing "compatible" wastes with limit values up to three times higher than the WAC for certain parameters to be deposited "together". The change was sought by landfill operators, says DEFRA, to save them the cost of engineering separate mono-cells for each specified type of waste.

  • Dates for pre-treatment, bans on tyres, liquids: As reported by ENDS last month, the Government has decided to bring forward the ban on landfilling tyres to 16 July 2006 from 30 October 2007 (ENDS Report 365, pp 17-18 ). The tyre industry argued that the later date would have endangered the viability of the recovery infrastructure already in place, and stifle further investment.

    The ban on the disposal of liquid waste at existing non-hazardous landfills and the requirement to pre-treat waste destined for such landfills will come in on 30 October 2007, as proposed in the consultation.

  • Monolithic wastes: Although the EU waste acceptance criteria set leaching limits for granular wastes, national criteria for monolithic wastes must be drawn up by Member States.

    Proposed leaching limits and testing procedures for monolithic wastes were included in the draft regulations - but according to DEFRA's consultation outcome document,2 these met with blanket opposition from industry, which argued that they were based on "flawed science" and should be "comprehensively redrafted".

    Most respondents said WAC for monolithic wastes should not be introduced until appropriate test methodologies had been published, and disagreed with the idea that the same criteria should be applied to all monolithic wastes. They also argued that the setting of loss on ignition and total organic carbon limit values for monolithic wastes entering a treatment plant was "gold-plating" the requirements of the landfill Directive.

    In response, DEFRA has backed down, and the regulations will allow monolithic waste producers to choose between meeting the monolithic WAC limit values outlined in the consultation or meeting the WAC limit values for granular wastes. The latter would require waste blocks to be broken into particles for testing purposes.

    DEFRA has also promised a review of the criteria and testing methods "in light of experience here and in Europe." Currently, says the paper, monolithic wastes are not being landfilled in the UK.

  • Physical stability: Following widespread criticism of the proposals for testing physical stability in cells taking stabilised non-reactive hazardous waste, the minimum requirements for the load-bearing capacity of granular wastes will be dropped, while the requirement for the unconfined compressive strength for monolithic wastes has been lowered from 1.5MPa to 1MPa.

  • PAHs: The limit value of 100mg/kg proposed in the consultation for wastes destined for inert landfills will be adopted.

  • Wet dredgings: As proposed in the consultation, the exemption for the disposal of dredgings in lagoons near to waterways will be clarified and supported with revised interpretative guidance.

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