Scottish Executive turns attention to waste from businesses

Options to improve the management of commercial and industrial waste in Scotland are set out in a consultation paper issued in August by the Scottish Executive.1 While radical options such as sector waste targets and landfill bans are discussed, the paper's emphasis is on improvements to waste data collection and best practice dissemination.

Recent progress on municipal waste management in Scotland has seen the recycling and composting rate leap to above 17% (see p 19 ). However, Scotland has only limited information on its commercial and industrial waste, which accounts for around 75% of the total waste stream.

The consultation paper, drawn up by the Executive and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, seeks views on the steps to be taken to improve performance.

The paper recognises that better data on waste arisings are required to inform policy decisions. SEPA commissioned a data survey of waste from businesses last year.

In the longer term, data collection will improve as waste site operators will be required to report more detailed information, in line with the UK waste data strategy proposed in 2004 (ENDS Report 358, p 53 ). However, Scotland will not be a full participant in this initiative until its second phase, after 2006.

Available information indicates that some 7.9 million tonnes was disposed of to landfill in 2003, of which 4 million tonnes was mixed ordinary waste and 3.3 million tonnes was mineral waste. These figures include waste from households as well as businesses.

Landfilling has halved since 1994, when some 15.9 million tonnes was tipped. However, most of the improvement is likely to be linked to reductions in the landfilling of inert wastes following the introduction of the landfill tax.

One initiative to improve knowledge on waste arisings and management options is Scotland's series of national best practice projects, formerly known as priority waste streams. SEPA and the Executive are now reviewing these projects and asking whether the approach remains appropriate.

Projects so far completed, with a summary note available on SEPA's website, include construction and demolition waste, fish wastes, end-of-life vehicles, household hazardous waste, used tyres, waste electrical equipment and newsprint.

Notes on cooking oils, mineral oils, waste batteries and oil and gas industry wastes are imminent, and notes on food preparation/processing wastes and forestry wastes are due by January.

The Executive is adamant that public funds should not generally be used to drive up standards in commercial and industrial waste management, although it is happy to support capital grant competitions and other projects through the Waste and Resources Action Programme.

"If facilities are provided by local authorities which will also handle commercial and industrial waste, it would be for the local authorities to recover the costs involved from commercial and industrial waste producers rather than from government," the paper says.

The paper reminds councils that an Audit Scotland study in 2000 found that Scottish councils were subsidising commercial refuse collection to the tune of £9.7 million per year. "Local authorities are expected to recover the full costs of collecting commercial waste through charges."

The paper moots the idea of setting targets for commercial and industrial waste - possibly including targets for specific industries. Such targets might be set through voluntary agreements.

It also discusses briefly the idea of landfill bans, while noting that enforcement might be difficult and that the Executive would need to consider its legal powers to introduce such bans.

As in England, however, the principal weapons in the battle to reshape the industrial and commercial waste market are the landfill tax and the EU landfill Directive.

The consultation notes how the number of operational landfill sites in Scotland is expected to fall to 110 by the end of 2007, compared with some 257 in 2002. Disposal capacity for hazardous waste is likely to be available only across the border in England.