Government unrepentant about handling of ELVs Directive

Environment Minister Elliot Morley dismissed fears of a steep increase in abandoned vehicles over the next few years during the House of Commons Environment Committee's inquiry into the EU Directives on end-of-life vehicles and waste electrical and electronic equipment. The Environment Agency joined metal recyclers in calling for a central fund to help offset the costs of "de-polluting" ELVs and in complaining about the effects of the Government's delay in transposing the Directive.

The inquiry began in November, prompted by a warning by the Cabinet Office's Better Regulation Task Force that another "fridge fiasco" was imminent with scrapped cars and electrical appliances unless the Government got its act together.
Earlier hearings saw the waste industry, retailers and vehicle dismantlers queue up to lambast the Department of Trade and Industry over delays in getting discussions started, and the Environment Department's role as an ineffectual, junior partner in proceedings (ENDS Report 346, pp 37-38 ).

Further hearings in December saw local government representatives, metal recyclers and the Agency add to the criticism, particularly concerning the ELVs Directive.

  • ELVs: The Committee concentrated on the issues of abandoned vehicles and the effects of the delay in issuing legislation and guidance on recyclers' investment plans. However, it failed to press the DTI on how the UK expects to meet the Directive's recycling and recovery targets (see pp 17-18 ). It also missed the chance to pin down the Agency on its plans to clamp down on the hundreds of illegal scrapyards.

    Vehicle manufacturers claim that the Directive will have no effect on the number of abandoned vehicles because some drivers have always dumped their vehicles.

    The Agency disagrees. "We envisage there being an increase before [amelioration] measures start to bite," Jeff Cooper told the inquiry. "Clearly...once the cost of de-pollution is added to any other costs for disassembling, there is going to be a temptation for people to abandon vehicles."

    Julian Lucraft of West Sussex County Council warned that unscrupulous last owners of vehicles circumventing the new system of continuous registration will also push up the number of abandoned vehicles.

    The British Metal Recyclers Association claimed that, even if the number of vehicles being abandoned stays the same, the number on the streets will go up. It believes that haulage firms will stop collecting them because dismantlers will no longer pay for them.

    However, Environment Minister Elliot Morley said he was "not convinced there will be a problem on the scale that some people have predicted. It's inevitable there will be some abandoned vehicles - there are some now. That's why we've tightened enforcement powers."

    Shredder operators echoed the complaint made by vehicle dismantlers earlier in the inquiry that they were unable to make investment decisions because they still do not know how the ELVs regime will operate. A consultation paper on the financial responsibilities of car manufacturers from 2007 was recently postponed until January.

    Asked if recyclers should be investing now, given that a national network of recycling facilities is supposed to be in place from January, Mr Morley could only say that "hopefully this will be resolved in the very near future." Recyclers still do not know how manufacturers' financial obligations will operate in practice.

    The Agency also complained about the effects of the delay in transposing the Directive. This had caused it "significant difficulties" in planning and preparing for the permitting of "authorised treatment facilities". Having to assess some 1,500 exempt sites in four months will affect its existing operational work.

    The Agency is also waiting for the Government to decide on the status of technical guidance on the removal of fluids and components to render an ELV non-hazardous.

    The Agency, dismantlers and shredder operators all believe that there needs to be a central fund to help create markets for ELV-derived secondary materials and to offset the costs of de-polluting ELVs. The fund could be generated by a visible levy on new cars, an increase in vehicle excise duty or the introduction of tradable certificates.

    Such a mechanism, said the BMRA's Neil Marshall, "would provide funds...without giving the vehicle manufacturers a dominant position."

    At one time, said Stuart Cottam of Sims Metal, the idea was accepted by all the players involved, including the DTI, only to be "taken away" - presumably because the Government feared it would be seen as a new tax.

    The BMRA warned that recyclers' inability to invest in additional equipment "is likely to lead to a shortage of treatment capacity to the required standards." But Liz Parkes, the Agency's head of waste regulation, said that with 900 sites currently licensed to treat or recycle ELVs, it "does not anticipate there is a shortfall in capacity."

    Mr Marshall complained that the Government has always been on the side of the car manufacturers. "It is abundantly clear," he told the inquiry, "there is systemic bias towards the vehicle manufacturers in Government."

    This appeared to be inadvertently confirmed by Industry Minister Stephen Timms, who has lead responsibility for ELVs and WEEE, when he defended the DTI's decision to make the "own marque" method of compliance the Government's preferred option. Such a system would force dismantlers and shredders to negotiate contracts individually with the manufacturers, rather than sell into a market for tradable "vehicle recovery notes".

    Mr Timms said there were two "really strong" arguments in favour of the "own marque" route. One was that it is "the most natural interpretation of the producer responsibility principle". This is true in the sense that it makes each manufacturer responsible for his own vehicles, but less so in terms of producers bearing the costs of recycling.

    The other argument, he said, is that once manufacturers were told that their original proposals were not acceptable, "they did converge on the own marque as their second favoured approach."

  • WEEE: The Directive requires Member States to adopt "appropriate measures to minimise the disposal of WEEE as unsorted municipal waste and to achieve a high level of separate collection of WEEE" by August 2005. The Government plans to do this by inviting councils to bid for funds to upgrade civic amenity sites and requiring retailers to provide a network of collection facilities, including drop-off points in major shopping centres (see pp 52-54 ).

    Mr Morley was quick to point out that councils which recycle WEEE will be able to count the tonnages towards their statutory household waste recycling targets - which a significant number are likely to have problems achieving. But the Committee failed to press either Minister on what will happen if a large number of councils in certain parts of the country decide not to offer WEEE collection facilities.

    The Committee also missed the chance to ask the DTI how the idea of a national clearing house to coordinate the collection of equipment from civic amenity sites or shopping centres would allocate collections to producers in a fair way.

    Alice Roberts of the Local Government Association warned that "very large swathes" of the UK do not have civic amenity sites, and many sites are too small to provide space for WEEE storage. Although "there is a very clear feeling out there still that local authority infrastructure can cope with what is needed...that is not the case...even with extra funding."

    Given the lack of strategic planning for a national network, Ms Roberts suggested that councils should group together "sub-regionally" with retailers and waste management companies.

    Ms Parkes agreed that there is a need to assess whether a national network of sites will be developed, and whether new CA sites will be required. "Not too many local authorities will have identified new sites in their waste local plans, and we need to look at what an adequate network of facilities would look like, both regionally and locally."

    The Agency also mentioned several outstanding issues. These include the absence of any de minimis provisions in respect of producers, and the lack of clarity about exactly which products will be covered. Reporting requirements have also yet to be clarified.

    Another issue is whether the treatment requirements set out in the Directive for various categories of equipment can be carried out after "specialist" shredding or whether more manual handling, and therefore more costly operations, will be required.

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