Hazwaste capacity is available - for now

The Hazardous Waste Forum established its treatment and disposal capacity task force late last year to monitor the installation of treatment capacity and update its estimates of hazardous waste arisings.

In its new report, the task force declares itself "disappointed" that it is unable to give a clearer picture of the short-term needs for treatment and disposal because the results vary widely between the "best case" and "worst case" scenarios.

Preliminary figures announced by task force chairman Gill Weeks in July suggested there would be a shortfall in stabilisation and solidification capacity of 600,000 tonnes and a landfill shortage of about a million tonnes during the interim year between the co-disposal ban in July 2004 and implementation of the full waste acceptance criteria (WAC) in July 2005 (ENDS Report 354, pp 19-20 ).

These figures, confirmed in the report, are considerably smaller than the Forum's forecast last year that there would be a capacity shortfall of around 1.8 million tonnes and at worst 3.8 million tonnes.

DEFRA now appears fairly confident that there is no immediate landfill crisis. In its comments on the report, it says that "although the data suggest a shortfall in landfill capacity, when this is likely to have a significant effect is unclear. The overall void space permitted in merchant hazardous waste landfill, through either a PPC permit or waste management licence, will be sufficient for a period but there is a need to see new facilities coming on stream."

The main reason for the smaller capacity gap at the moment is the drop in construction and demolition waste and asbestos arisings, which account for 60% of all hazardous waste sent to landfill. There was a 45% increase in contaminated soils sent to landfill in the first half of 2004 compared with the same period in 2003, as developers raced to clear brownfield sites before the co-disposal ban.

From this, the Forum assumes that disposal rates will be relatively low in the latter half of 2004, providing a "valuable breathing space" for increased management techniques and alternative treatments to develop.

A key variable in determining landfill capacity is how many cells for "stable non-reactive" hazardous waste will come on stream before July 2005, when the full waste acceptance criteria come into effect.

As of 16 July 2004 the annual capacity of such cells that had applied for PPC permits was around 800,000 tonnes, but some are thought to be speculative. Whether such cells become available will depend on factors such as how much capacity comes on stream to treat hazardous waste and make it stable and non-reactive, and whether landfill operators believe they will be economically viable compared with other treatment or landfill options.

At the time of writing the report, the Agency was processing 31 permit applications for stable non-reactive cells and six had been issued. By mid-October the number issued had doubled to 12, although it was not clear if any were operational. Three had been refused and 27 were pending. Two cells - at Lafarge's Roswell site in Essex and Amgen Cymru's site at Aberdare in south Wales - were operating under the terms of their waste management licences.

The picture is even less clear for pre-treatment, with "no information readily available on the permitted or maximum capacity of the facilities currently handling special waste." However, there is believed to be spare capacity at physico-chemical treatment facilities, while the cement industry says it may be able to burn a further 300,000 tonnes of hazardous waste.

Moreover, "there appears to have been little attention given to the characterisation of waste streams, which producers should be currently doing to assess whether their waste meets the WAC." The task force stressed that a "thorough assessment regime and moving waste away from landfill to a treatment process mentality is now essential for hazardous waste producers."

At the latest meeting of the Forum, members heard that the Environment Department's landfill and hazardous waste implementation programme would be providing more guidance to waste producers about how to meet the WAC.

The Forum does not intend to issue a follow-up to last year's "plan of action", while most members believe it would be very difficult for it to advise DEFRA on minimisation targets for hazardous waste, as required in its original terms of reference. However, DEFRA may consider doing so as part of the review of the national waste strategy, which has just started.

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